The Indiana physician who provided abortion services to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio is suing Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, alleging the attorney general engaged in an “abuse of power” by opening a meritless investigation into her, according to a complaint filed Thursday.
Dr. Caitlin Bernard, was placed under national media scrutiny in the aftermath of the Supreme Court axing Roe v. Wade, which rendered abortion in Indiana’s neighboring state Ohio illegal past the point of fetal heartbeat detection, around six weeks. Bernard provided abortion care to a 10-year-old rape victim who had traveled from Ohio to Indiana to circumvent the changing legal landscape in her home state. After initially claiming that the story was fake news invented by pro-choice advocates, conservative politicians and pundits switched tactics following the arrest of the alleged perpetrator and demanding Bernard also be investigated for her role in the case.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita publicly and baselessly insinuated Bernard had committed medical misconduct in her treatment of the girl, even appearing on Fox News following the suspect’s arrest to announce that his office was looking into Bernard and her medical license. He and host Jesse Watters suggested Bernard may have failed to report the assault and abortion, which Watters described as a possible “cover-up.” Rokita accused her of being an “abortion activist” who along with the “lamestream media, the fake news” wanted to politicize the girl’s assault.
The lawsuit seeks to stop Rokita and his co-defendants from “unlawfully [harassing] physicians and patients who are engaged in completely legal conduct and even though neither the physicians nor patients have any complaints about their relationship.” Bernard alleges that the complaints used to justify the investigation against her were “frivolous” and “were submitted by individuals who have no relationship with the targeted physicians or their patients, who lack any personal knowledge of the alleged circumstances giving rise to the complaints, and who have not even provided all the information required on the consumer complaint forms.”
The allegations of a cover-up, or that Bernard has some role in harming the girl, were unfounded. The Indianapolis Star, which originally broke the story, used public records to confirm that Bernard filed a report with the Indiana Department of Health and the Department of Child Services disclosing the abortion in accordance with Indiana law. A separate report was filed with Children Health Services in Ohio, who then contacted law enforcement regarding the matter.
In Ohio, the state where the girl lived, elected officials cast doubt on her very existence. Attorney General David Yost appeared on Fox News and declared that there was “not a damn scintilla of evidence” that the case was real,” and Rep. Jim Jordan tweeted that the story was a “lie.”
Rokita’s office defended the investigation in the wake of the lawsuit. “By statutory obligation, we investigate thousands of potential licensing, privacy, and other violations a year,” Kelly Stevenson his press secretary, said in a statement provided to Rolling Stone. “A majority of the complaints we receive are, in fact, from nonpatients. Any investigations that arise as a result of potential violations are handled in a uniform manner and narrowly focused. We will discuss this particular matter further through the judicial filings we make.”
The lawsuit ultimately looks to prevent state officials from overreaching their authority to target and harass both physicians and patients providing and seeking legal treatments, and could set an important precedent in the post-Roe medical landscape. “All licensed professionals face the exact same dangers as Plaintiffs,” the suit reads. “Only judicial relief that enforces the existing statutory scheme can prevent the unlawful expansion of the Defendants’ investigatory authority over regulated professionals and ensure that Indiana’s licensed physicians can practice medicine and prosper in the free market without the fear of unchecked prosecutorial oversight.”
The suspect in the case, 27-year-old Gershon Fuentes, is awaiting trial.
This post has been updated to include a statement from Rokita’s office.