Indiana AG faces ethics charges for these comments on doc who provided abortion to 10-year-old

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AP Todd Rokita November 2022

Republican Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita speaks in November 2022 in Schererville, Indiana. On Monday, a complaint was filed alleging that Rokita violated professional conduct rules in statements about Dr. Caitlin Bernard, a doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled from Ohio to Indiana for the procedure. Photo by Darron Cummings/The Associated Press.

Republican Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is facing ethics charges for comments that he made about his investigation of an “abortion activist acting as a doctor” who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old girl.

Rokita is accused of revealing the investigation before the filing of a complaint with the medical licensing board, according to the disciplinary complaint filed Monday. And he is accused of making a statement that has a substantial likelihood of prejudicing the adjudicative proceedings.

Rokita made the “abortion activist” comment on TV anchor Jesse Watters’ show on Fox News after the Indianapolis Star reported on the girl July 1, 2022.

Indianapolis physician Dr. Caitlin Bernard had told the Indianapolis Star that she performed the abortion on the unnamed girl after receiving a call about her pregnancy from a child-abuse doctor in Ohio, where abortion is illegal. At the time, Indiana had not yet banned abortion. The Indianapolis Star story was headlined: “Patients head to Indiana for abortion services as other states restrict care.”

During his appearance with Watters on July 13, 2022, Rokita called Bernard an “abortion activist acting as a doctor—with a history of failing to report” child abuse, according to the ethics complaint. He said his office was gathering information and “we’re going to fight this to the end, including looking at her licensure if she failed to report.”

Rokita said the girl was being “politicized for the gain of killing more babies. All right, that was the goal. And this abortion activist is out there front and center.”

The Sept. 18 ethics complaint summarizes related comments by Rokita at about the same time and in the months that followed.

Rokita released his July 13, 2022, letter requesting records from two state agencies regarding Bernard. The next day, he issued a press release that said his office was investigating the Bernard situation and waiting for relevant documents on whether the abortion and abuse were reported. The press release also said if a medical privacy violation happened, “that may affect next steps as well.”

He also talked about the investigation in a Sept. 1, 2022, Facebook Live broadcast and in two media interviews the same month.

Rokita’s office filed a complaint against Bernard with the medical licensing board in November 2022. The board found that Bernard violated privacy laws but cleared her of an allegation that she failed to report child abuse quickly enough, the Indianapolis Star reported in a May story. She was reprimanded and fined $3,000.

A day after Bernard was disciplined, her employer, IU Health, said it disagreed with the decision and thought that Bernard complied with privacy laws.

The disciplinary commission of the Indiana Supreme Court filed the ethics complaint against Rokita days after he filed a lawsuit against IU Health. Rodita’s Sept. 15 suit alleges that the hospital didn’t implement or follow safeguards to protect patient privacy, the Indiana Capital Chronicle reports.

Rokita will file a response to the complaint, he said in a Sept. 18 statement that included highlights. His work “certainly includes vindicating vulnerable children (our most precious gift) for having their privacy rights unlawfully violated,” he said.

Rokita’s response argues that no confidentiality should be required when Bernard violated her duties of confidentiality. His statements about the Bernard investigation “reflect his commitment to fulfill official duties regardless of political sensitivity and to keep the public informed,” he said.

Rokita also argues that the confidentiality law referenced in the ethics complaint applied to unelected employees in his office but not to himself. As an elected official, he argued, he has a duty to keep the public informed.

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