An Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist thrust into the national spotlight on abortion this year is suing to stop Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita from allegedly relying on “frivolous” consumer complaints to issue subpoenas over confidential medical records.
Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who attracted national attention after she told IndyStar she provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim, and her medical partner Dr. Amy Caldwell claim in their lawsuit Rokita’s office has sent subpoenas for medical records of patients who never filed complaints to the attorney general’s office.
They’re asking a Marion County, Indiana, court to stop his investigation because his acts violate “numerous Indiana statutes,” according to an early copy of the complaint that was provided to IndyStar, part of the USA TODAY Network.
“The Attorney General has completely ignored the requirement to determine that consumer complaints have ‘merit’ before he can investigate and has instead used facially invalid consumer complaints to justify multiple, duplicative, and overbroad investigations into law-abiding physicians,” attorneys for the two doctors wrote.
IndyStar has requested a response from Rokita’s office.
The lawsuit comes months after Bernard’s attorney Kathleen DeLaney said they received a letter about an investigation by Rokita’s office into complaints against the doctor. DeLaney said in a past statement the complaints were “riddled with inaccuracies and rely on no first-hand knowledge.”
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Complaints against Bernard came during media storm
Seven people filed consumer complaints against Bernard to the Indiana Attorney General’s Office between July 8 and July 12, according to the lawsuit.
Her attorneys say they were submitted by people who saw news stories about Bernard after the IndyStar story describing the 10-year-old patient went viral. No one claimed to have received care by either Bernard or Caldwell.
“Most of the complaints were submitted by individuals who did not claim to reside in Indiana,” the lawsuit states.
One complaint said Bernard “kept knowledge of the rape of a 10 year old from authorities.” In July, however, the Indiana Department of Health provided IndyStar a copy of a termination of pregnancy report filled out by Bernard that confirmed she did report the abortion, and alerted the state that the 10-year-old had suffered abuse.
Another complaint from a resident in Ohio accused Bernard of spreading false information by relating the anecdote of the 10-year-old to media. They pointed to statements by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who questioned the integrity of Bernard’s story when he said on Fox News his office had not heard “a whisper” of a report being filed for the 10-year-old victim.
But in the weeks after IndyStar published the story on Bernard, authorities in Ohio charged a man with rape in connection with the 10-year-old. Columbus, Ohio, police were informed of the girl’s pregnancy through a referral by Franklin County Children Services that was made by her mom in June.
In another complaint, the individual was asked in the complaint form, “What was the very first contact between you and the Individual/Business?”
Their response: “Reported in the US Media and President of the United States.”
A spokesperson for Rokita’s office has said the attorney general’s authority to look into doctors like Bernard is “intentionally broad and found throughout state and federal law.”
“It includes but isn’t limited to authority to investigate both state and federal privacy violations, consumer complaint issues, and it includes jurisdiction over licensed professionals including physicians,” they said.
Rokita can ask the state’s medical licensing board to discipline a doctor if a consumer has made a substantiated complaint against them. Bernard doesn’t have any record of disciplinary actions, according to state records. Nor have any legal actions been taken against her in state or federal court.
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