Topline

Indiana’s attorney general faces an ethics complaint and possible investigation after he publicly launched a probe into a doctor who performed an abortion for a 10-year-old rape victim, multiple outlets reporta case that has become central in the debate over abortion rights in the US and as evidence has suggested the physician did nothing wrong.

Key Facts

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Former IU Maurer School of Law dean Lauren Robel sent a letter to the state’s Supreme Court disciplinary commission alleging AG Todd Rokita committed misconduct by launching the investigation into Dr. Caitlin Bernard without doing the proper “due diligence” first and “recklessly” made false due to the Indianapolis Star reports,

Robel accused Rokita of making “dangerous, politicized, and factually baseless assaults against” Bernard, going against his duty to “protect our citizens,” as quoted by the Star,

Rokita announced on Fox News last week his office had started investigating Bernard following confirmation that her story about a 10-year-old rape victim who was denied an abortion in Ohio was true, questioning without evidence whether Bernard failed to properly disclose the abortion as required under state law.

Public records obtained by multiple news outlets show Bernard did, in fact, report the abortion in line with state law, and Indiana University Health, Bernard’s employer, said in a statement it had investigated whether she had properly followed privacy laws—which Rokita said he was also investigating—and determined she had.

Rokita said he would continue the investigation despite that, and the AG’s office told Forbes Tuesday it would also not be deterred by Robel’s letter, accusing her of being “without basis.”

Crucial Quotes

"What General Rokita did, in essence, was identify a private citizen whose political views he disagrees with and suggest repeatedly ... that she had broken the law, with no evidence to support those claims," ​​Robel wrote, as quoted by the Star, “If he can throw the entire weight of his office without consequence to attack Dr. Bernard, he can do so to target any private citizen with whom he disagrees. This is the opposite of the rule of law."

Chief Critic

"Any attorney or client can file anything they want, even without basis, which is the case here," a spokesperson for Rokita said in a statement. “Our office is continuing its investigation into whether Dr. Caitlin Bernard was in compliance with Indiana and federal privacy laws, among other reporting and confidentiality requirements and practices. No enforcement actions have been filed.”

What To Watch For

Under the disciplinary commission's process, the commission will determine whether or not Rokita committed probable misconduct, and if it thinks he did, it will file a formal legal complaint against him bringing charges. If the court finds that Rokita committed misconduct, it could result in sanctions ranging from a reprimand or temporary suspension of his law license to full disbarment. The Star notes the commission only investigated approximately 9% of the complaints it received between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, though, so it's unclear if the grievance process against the AG will move forward at all.

Tangent

Rokita may also face legal action from Bernard directly, as her attorney has said the doctor is also considering bringing litigation "against those who have smeared her," such as the AG. Bernard's attorney sent Rokita a cease and desist letter last week requesting him to stop “making false and misleading statements” about the doctor, suggesting they could be the basis of a defamation lawsuit against him.

Surprising Fact

If the commission investigates Rokita, he could be the second Indiana attorney general in a row to be punished for misconduct. Former AG Curtis Hill had his law license suspended for 30 days in 2020 in response to he groped four women at a party two years prior.

Key Background

Bernard aided a 10-year-old girl who traveled to Indiana for an abortion after being raped and denied an abortion in Ohio under the state's six-week ban, which does not have any exemptions for rape. (The girl was six weeks and three days pregnant when the abortion was denied, the Star reported.) She received a medication abortion on June 30 under Bernard's supervision. The Indiana doctor was the one who reported the child's story to the media, telling the Star she had been asked to take the patient by a colleague in Ohio, and the story quickly blew up as an example of the extreme nature of abortion bans in the wake of Roe v. Wade's overturning. A number of Republicans had questioned the story's validity when it first came out, with Rokita himself saying on Fox News he hadn't seen a “whisper” of evidence to support it, but were then forced to backtrack on their comments when the child's rapist was arrested, confirming the story. Many anti-abortion advocates have continued to say they believe it was right for the child to be denied the abortion. “As many women who have had babies as a result of rape, we would hope that she would understand the reason and ultimately the benefit of having the child,” National Right to Life attorney James Bopp, who has helped draft proposed abortion ban bills, told Politico,

Former IU dean asks Supreme Court to investigate Todd Rokita after comments about doctor (Indianapolis Star)

Ind. attorney general's comments endangered abortion provider, says complaint (Washington Post)

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)