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Indiana doctor who gave abortion care to 10-year-old sues state’s attorney general for defamation

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An Indianpolis doctor who assisted a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio with abortion care is taking a step towards suing the Indiana attorney general for charges of defamation on her and her work.

Obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Caitlin Bernard has filed a tort claim notice seeking damages against attorney general Todd Rokita, saying that his statements — alleging her actions were in violation with federal medical privacy — are false.

Dr Bernard had confirmed she had performed a medication-induced abortion on a 10-year-old child on 30 June who was raped and had travelled to Indiana from Ohio seeking the assistance, as the US state had adopted the fetal heartbeat law in accordance with the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade.

Ohio is among the nearly a dozen US states that does not make exception for medical termination of pregnancy in the cases of rape and incest, forcing a person to carry through their unwanted pregnancy. Under this law, a person will be denied abortion from the time a cardiac activity is detected in a fetus, which is observed around the sixth week of pregnancy.

The case, which drew Dr Bernard backlash from conservatives, came to the fore after president Joe Biden mentioned it while signing the executive order on abortion.

Additionally, the obstetrician-gynaecologist turned in her report for the official records confirming the child’s abortion on 2 July, as prescribed under Indiana’s required three-day reporting period for the procedure performed on a girl younger than 16 years of age.

But soon after this came to the wider attention, attorney general Todd Rokita that he would probe whether the doctor violated child abuse notification or abortion reporting laws.

His office, Mr Rokita said, would investigate whether anything Dr Bernard said to the Indianapolis Star about the girl’s case violated federal medical privacy laws.

The attorney general did not offer any specific charges of wrongdoing against Dr Bernard.

According to Dr Bernard’s lawyer Kathleen DeLaney, the statements made by Mr Rokita are “false and misleading” about the alleged misconduct by the doctor in her profession and “constitute defamation”.

“The statements have been and continue to be published by or on behalf of Mr Rokita and the office of the attorney general,” Ms DeLaney said.

In the claim, a 90-day notice period has been issued to the state to settle it and if it is not settled, Dr Bernard can proceed to file a lawsuit.

According to the claim, it is not mentioned how much money Dr Bernard is seeking, adding that “the harm is ongoing”.

Officials from Mr Rokita’s office have called Dr Bernard’s charges as “baseless” and attempts to “distract from the important work of the office”.

Spokesperson Kelly Stevenson said: “Attorney general Rokita and the office of attorney general are leaders in the pro-life movement.”

The emailed response added: “His historic work has further distinguished Indiana as a protector of unborn life and women.”

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