Doctor who performed abortion for a 10-year-old rape victim moves to sue Indiana AG for defamation

Dr. Caitlin Bernard — the Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio after the state outlawed the procedure for pregnancies past six weeks — has filed a notice that she intends to sue Indiana’s attorney general for statements he made about her on Fox News.

In a letter to Indiana AG Todd Rokita dated Tuesday, lawyers for Bernard informed Rokita of the filing, which by law triggers a 90-day period for the state to respond to the so-called tort claim seeking damages for reputational harm and emotional distress. At that time, Bernard could file a lawsuit against Rokita for defamation.

Three days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which prompted a statewide ban in Ohio on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, Bernard received a phone call from a child-abuse physician in the Buckeye State whose 10-year-old patient was six weeks and three days pregnant.

On July 1, the Indianapolis Star reported on the case in a story about the repercussions of the Supreme Court’s decision. It quickly drew national attention — and skepticism from anti-abortion advocates who questioned whether the girl even existed.

Todd Rokita and Dr. Caitlin Bernard. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Darron Cummings/AP,
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and Dr. Caitlin Bernard. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Darron Cummings/AP,

On July 11, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, said there was “not a damn scintilla of evidence” to corroborate the story. Two days later, the girl’s alleged rapist was arraigned in an Ohio court.

At the arraignment, Columbus Police Detective Jeffrey Huhn testified that Gerson Fuentes, who was suspected to be living in the country illegally, ​​had been arrested after he confessed to raping the child on at least two occasions. Huhn said the girl’s mother had reported the rape to the Franklin County child services agency, which referred a complaint to Columbus police on June 22.

In court, officials disclosed that the girl underwent a medical abortion in Indianapolis on June 30.

The night of the arraignment, Rokita appeared on Fox News and said his office was investigating whether Bernard was licensed to perform an abortion — and whether she had failed to report it.

“We have this abortion activist acting as a doctor with a history of failing to report,” Rokita said. “We’re gathering the evidence as we speak, and we’re going to fight this to the end.”

During the interview, a chyron on the screen underneath Rokita and a picture of Bernard read: “Doc Failed to Report Abortion of Abuse Victim.”

Abortion rights activists
Abortion rights activists rally at the Indiana Statehouse following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (A.J. Mast/AP)

Rokita issued a subsequent statement through his office, saying: “Aside from the horror caused here by illegal immigration, we are investigating this situation and are waiting for the relevant documents to prove if the abortion and/or the abuse were reported, as Dr. Caitlin Bernard had requirements to do both under Indiana law. The failure to do so constitutes a crime in Indiana, and her behavior could also affect her licensure. Additionally, if a HIPAA violation did occur, that may affect next steps as well.”

But Bernard, whose physician license is active, did report it. The Indiana University Health System, where she is employed, issued a statement on Friday saying it had conducted a review into whether she had violated any privacy laws and found her to be in full compliance.

“Mr. Rokita’s statements that Dr. Bernard was an ‘abortion activist acting as a doctor’ with a ‘history of failing to report’ were false,” Bernard’s attorneys said in their letter. “Mr. Rokita either knew the statements were false or acted with reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the statements.”

“Mr. Rokita’s comments were intended to heighten public condemnation of Dr. Bernard, who legally provided legitimate medical care,” her attorneys added. “Mr. Rokita’s false and misleading statements about alleged misconduct by Dr. Bernard in her ​​profession constitute defamation.”

Rokita's office responded in a statement to Yahoo News.

"Attorney General Rokita and the Office of Attorney General are leaders in the pro-life movement," Kelly Stevenson, Rokita's press secretary, said in the statement. "His historic work has further distinguished Indiana as a protector of unborn life and women. This is part of a divisive narrative and an attempt to distract from the important work of the office, including the duty to determine whether practitioners have violated the standards of practice in his or her profession, as well as federal and state laws. We will defend against baseless claims."