A state judge in Indiana found that Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita repeatedly violated state law by publicly discussing details of his investigation into an obstetrician-gynecologist targeted by GOP officials and right-wing media after she provided abortion care to a 10-year-old rape survivor.
Judge Heather Welch found that Mr Rokita caused “irreparable harm” to Dr Caitlin Bernard’s reputation with his “unlawful breaches” of confidentiality provisions after he discussed his investigation on national news and in the press.
But the ruling on 2 December denied Dr Bernard’s request for a preliminary injunction into the investigation because Mr Rokita had filed an administrative action with the state’s medical licensing board this week, a move intended to punish Dr Bernard.
The move effectively changed venues for Dr Bernard’s complaint.
“Due to the recent referral of the investigations to the Medial Licensing Board by the Attorney General, however, the Court no longer has jurisdiction to make any factual findings over these ultimate questions, even for the purposes of a preliminary order,” according to the filing.
Dr Bernard’s lawsuit alleged Mr Rokita relied on spurious and frivolous consumer complaints as the basis for his subpoenas for medical records of abortion patients.
He is accused of making false and misleading statements about Dr Bernard and the case of a 10-year-old girl from Ohio. The girl’s alleged attacker has been arrested and reportedly confessed to raping her.
On 30 November, Mr Rokita announced that his office filed an administrative action against Dr Bernard before the state licensing board, claiming that she “violated federal and Indiana law related to patient privacy and the reporting of child abuse,” echoing baseless accusations that she failed to notify law enforcement about her patient’s case.
His office accused the doctor of violating state medical reporting laws. These accusations came despite documents and testimony from Dr Bernard — and others — showing that the girl’s case had already been reported to Ohio authorities before she received care in Indiana. Dr Bernard and another physician, Dr Amy Caldwell, as well as their patients, have filed the suit to block his office from allegedly infringing patient-doctor confidentiality.
After the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade on 24 June, officials in Ohio enacted an anti-abortion law prohibiting abortion at the detection of a so-called “heartbeat” at roughly six weeks of pregnancy. This law forced the victim to seek legal care in neighbouring Indiana.
In an emailed statement on Friday, Dr Bernard’s attorney Kathleen DeLaney said the ruling confirms that there was “no basis” for the investigation into the case and Dr Bernard’s partner Dr Amy Caldwell.
“Last week, my client and other witnesses gave critical and favorable testimony, after which Mr Rokita suddenly moved the case to a new forum, taking it out of the hands of Judge Welch,” she said. “We are confident in the record and testimony that we have already developed and look forward to presenting Dr Bernard’s evidence to the Medical Licensing Board.”