An Indiana doctor being investigated by the state attorney general after she provided abortion services to a 10-year-old Ohio girl has sued the official, alleging his office used illegitimate consumer complaints to seek patient records and pursue the probe.
Attorneys for Dr. Caitlin Bernard and her medical partner filed the suit Thursday in Indiana’s Marion County, asking a court to prevent Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita from using those complaints to continue the investigation.
Rokita’s office issued subpoenas for confidential medical records based on complaints from third parties “who have no relationship with the targeted physicians or their patients” and “who lack any personal knowledge of the alleged circumstances,” the lawsuit alleges.
That’s improper, the lawsuit argues, because state law requires an attorney general’s investigations of licensed professionals to be based on complainants’ relationship to, or personal knowledge of a transaction with, the subject of the complaint.
The attorney general’s office issued at least five subpoenas seeking confidential medical records based on the allegedly improper complaints, Bernard’s lawyers allege. The medical records are those of patients “who did not themselves file complaints about their physicians and who by all accounts are perfectly satisfied with the medical care they received,” the lawsuit reads.
“These improper investigations unfairly burden plaintiffs in numerous ways, threatening not only their livelihoods but also the availability of the essential services they provide to their patients,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit names as defendants Rokita and Scott Barnhart, the director of the attorney general’s consumer protection division.
CNN asked the attorney general’s office Thursday about the subpoenas, the state of the investigation into Bernard, and for comment about the lawsuit.
“By statutory obligation, we investigate thousands of potential licensing, privacy, and other violations a year. A majority of the complaints we receive are, in fact, from nonpatients,” said office spokesperson Kelly Stevenson. “Any investigations that arise as a result of potential violations are handled in a uniform manner and narrowly focused. We will discuss this particular matter further through the judicial filings we make.”
CNN’s attempt to obtain comment from Barnhart was not immediately successful.
The suit is the latest development in a drama that thrust Bernard into the debate over abortion rights in the United States after a Supreme Court decision overturned Roe vs. Wade on June 24 and ended the federal right to abortion.
Bernard, an obstetrician-gynecologist, provided abortion services in Indiana to a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim in late June, Bernard told CNN. Ohio banned abortion as early as six weeks of gestation following the Supreme Court ruling, and the girl was six weeks and three days into the pregnancy, Bernard said.
Rokita in July said he would investigate Bernard for potential failure to report the abortion and possible violation of patient privacy laws.
At the time, Indiana allowed abortions up to 20 weeks after fertilization. However, an abortion performed on a person younger than 16 needed to be reported to the state’s Department of Health and also to the Department of Child Services within three days of the abortion.
Bernard reported the abortion procedure to the Indiana Department of Health on July 2 – two days after it was performed – as required by the department, according to agency documents obtained by CNN.
Indiana’s Department of Child Services declined on Thursday to confirm whether it received a report from Bernard, citing confidentiality law.
Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, conducted a review in this case with Bernard’s “full cooperation” and determined she was “in compliance with privacy laws,” it said in July.
As for the consumer complaints, the suit says they “were submitted by individuals who are not consumers and who did not engage in, or attempt to engage in, a transaction in Indiana, let alone a transaction with plaintiffs.”
“Indeed, most of the complaints were submitted by individuals who do not reside in Indiana and have no connection to the state. … The complaints expressly asserted they were based on news stories and social media posts,” the suit reads.
In late July, Bernard’s attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, told CNN that the attorney general had sent Bernard six letters initiating investigations stemming from complaints from residents of California, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio, along with one from Indiana.
CNN’s Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.