Topline

Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the Indiana doctor who oversaw a 10-year-old rape victim’s abortion after she was denied one in Ohio, took a first step toward suing the Indiana attorney general for defamation Tuesday, after Attorney General Todd Rokita publicly accused the doctor of violating state law and as he continues to investigate her despite showing evidence she acted lawfully.

Key Facts

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Bernard’s attorney Kathleen DeLaney filed a tort claim notice against Rokita on Tuesday, which alleges the attorney general defamed Bernard through his “false and misleading statements.”

The tort claim is a precursor to bringing a defamation lawsuit against the state of Indiana, which Bernard can file after a 90-day investigative period if the state doesn’t settle the claim first.

The notice pointed to Rokita’s comments calling Bernard an “abortion activist acting as a doctor with a history of failing to report,” on Fox News, as well as Rotika’s announcement that the state was investigating the doctor and whether she failed to report the 10- year-old’s abortion, as state law requires.

DeLaney notes that a “simple check” of the state’s license verification system shows that Bernard is a licensed physician with no disciplinary record despite Rokita’s suggestion, arguing Rokita “recklessly and/or negligently failed to ascertain” whether his statements about Bernard were true before he made them on air.

The notice also argues Rokita defamed Bernard by continuing to investigate her—and stating he was doing so on his office’s website—even after public records demonstrated she had complied with the law by disclosing the abortion to the state.

Rokita’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Crucial Quotes

“Statements that Dr. Bernard has a 'history of failing to report,' which Mr. Rokita indicated would constitute a crime, made in the absence of reasonable investigation, serve no legitimate law enforcement purpose,” the tort claim notice reads. “Given the current political atmosphere in the United States, Mr. Rokita's comments were intended to heighten public condemnation of Dr. Bernard, who legally provided legitimate medical care.”

What We Don't Know

The notice doesn't specify how much money Bernard is asking for in damages because the harm against the doctor is still ongoing, but states she "intends to seek damages for security costs, legal fees, reputational harm, and emotional distress."

Tangent

The tort claim notice was the second legal complaint brought against Rokita in recent days. The former dean of Indiana University's law school also filed a separate ethics complaint against the attorney general on Friday with the state's Supreme Court disciplinary commission, which asks that Rokita be investigated for professional misconduct for going after Bernard. If the commission decides to take up the complaint and a court finds the attorney general committed misconduct, it could result in charges ranging from a reprimand or having his law license temporarily suspended to being disbarred.

Key Background

Bernard treated a 10-year-old rape victim who had a medical abortion on June 30 in Indiana under her supervision. The child was forced to cross state lines after being denied an abortion in Ohio under the state's six-week abortion ban, which took effect shortly after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade and does not have exemptions for rape. The doctor told the Indianapolis Star she had been asked to take the patient by a colleague in Ohio, and her account immediately gained widespread attention in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned. President Joe Biden commented on the "extreme" nature of the case, but many on the right were skeptical, with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost telling Fox News he hadn't seen a “whisper” of evidence to support Bernard's account. After the child's rapist was arrested, confirming the case was real, Republicans backtracked on their statements doubting the abortion and instead went after Bernard, with Rokita launching his investigation against the doctor and criticizing her on Fox News. The tort claim notice comes after Bernard's attorney had previously sent a cease and desist letter to the attorney general last week demanding he stop making false statements about the physician, but the AG has continued the investigation despite the legal threat and evidence supporting Bernard's case.

Indiana AG Faces Ethics Complaint For Going After Abortion Doctor Who Helped 10-Year-Old Rape Victim (Forbes)

Doctor Who Helped 10-Year-Old Get Abortion Followed Reporting Requirements, Records Show — But She's Still Under Investigation (Forbes)

Indiana Investigates Doctor Who Helped 10-Year-Old Rape Victim Obtain Abortion — Even Though It's Still Legal There (Forbes)