Reprimanding the Messenger

Terry Schwadron
4 min readMay 27, 2023

Terry H. Schwadron

May 27, 2023

For whatever reasons, we don’t have laws about ostriches sticking their heads in the sand. But current times are certainly bringing about many violations of ignoring the obvious to make political points.

Just this last week, the Indiana Medical Licensing Board found an Indianapolis doctor violated privacy lawsin her handling of a 10-year-old abortion patient’s information last summer — but failed to pin the tail on restrictive laws that had made this a problem in the first place.

It took 13 hours of board meeting time to clear Dr. Caitlin Bernard of charges that could have lifted her medical license altogether. Instead, the board decided to “reprimand” the doctor for violating patient rights by talking about the fact that a 10-year-old rape victim was forced to cross state lines to get an abortion — now outlawed in Indiana too.

She was clear as well of a charge — filed by an outspokenly right-wing Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita — that she had failed to report abuse of the girl quickly enough.

Let’s just state plainly that the patient and the doctor were in an impossible situation, and that prosecuting the doctor, even before a state medical licensing board, goes well beyond the discretionary powers of the attorney general to seek justice.

This is about abortion politics, plain and simple. And it is about the excessive degree of using the law for partisan political ends. And it failed.

Even the reprimand and accompanying $3,000 is subject to additional process before it takes effect and is subject to appeal to justice courts.

Apart and among the zillion questions raised by this state prosecutorial action is this: Why aren’t these same officials focused in on the rape of a 10-year-old and the responsibilities of a sane and humane society to deal with the consequences? This is a mis-aimed, vitriolic attack on the wrong problem.

A Rape and Abortion Gone Viral

The story of this girl’s plight story appeared in a July 2022 IndyStar article about reduced abortion access following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, with the doctor as its source.

Abortion rights advocates and politicians used the story to support their arguments while some conservatives questioned whether the story was true, the newspaper recounts.

On Thursday, Indiana Deputy Attorney General Cory Voight told the medical licensing board that as a result of the story, “everyone — the country — learned about her patient. Learned a 10-year-old little girl was raped and had an abortion.” Voight also said Bernard’s failure to immediately report the child abuse ended with “a child returning to live with her rapist for five days in Ohio.

Through her lawyer, the doctor testified that she had indeed reported the abuse to an Indiana University social worker, in accord to normal practice at the university hospital where she works. There was a dispute at the hearing about the degree to which release of a patient age and state would lead to identification of an individual patient.

The patient and family involved had sought out the Indiana abortion because new law in Ohio had blocked it. Dr. Bernard responded to a patient problem but chose to speak out about it later.

Unnecessary, Unfair and Misdirected

This was an unnecessary and provocative legal action taken against an abortion doctor simply because she is an abortion doctor, working at what was then legal in her state, with an eye out for the outrage of a pre-teen rape resulting in pregnancy.

The Indiana attorney general was not even at the hearing.

Lost in all this, and in the aftermath of states with Republican majorities passing increasingly harsh abortion bans to fill the void left by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, are the consequences of removing patient rights to legal abortion and to the consequences of rape and other medical conditions that elevate the need for such decisions.

Not present in a medical hearing about ethics — even a hearing that included doctors — was concern about what to do about rape of children or the insanity of enacting abortion ban laws that do not address victims of rape, incest, or medical emergency. Instead, the medical board, which does include people who have contributed to the political campaign of the attorney general, managed to whittle the charges to a reprimandable procedural matter.

The least we can demand from our deteriorating governing systems is some honest assessment of the problems we face.