An Indiana doctor who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim sued the state’s attorney general on Thursday, accusing him of using “frivolous consumer complaints” to launch a “baseless” investigation.
Indiana OB-GYN Caitlin Bernard alleged Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s (R) office pursued invalid complaints filed by people who read media reports about Bernard performing the abortion on an Ohio girl who had to cross state lines to obtain the procedure after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“The Attorney General has wholly ignored the General Assembly’s fine-tuned structure for handling consumer complaints regarding licensed professionals and has engaged in precisely the type of overbearing, harassing conduct that the General Assembly sought to prohibit,” the complaint reads.
Indiana’s legislature allows the attorney general’s office to confidentially investigate consumer complaints filed against regulated professions if the office determines the complaint has “merit.”
Bernard and one of her colleagues who also provides abortion services, Amy Caldwell, allege Rokita’s office pursued eight “facially invalid” complaints against them that generally claim they kept required information from authorities.
The suit shows one of the purported complaint filers listing Bernard’s phone number as “5555555555” and her zip code as “00000.” Another filer mistakenly listed themselves as the person the complaint was against, according to the suit.
The physicians said the complaints came from people who were not patients of the two physicians and had no relationship with them.
“These consumer complaints all were submitted by individuals who saw news stories or social media posts concerning Dr. Bernard’s patient and at a time when a news outlet was asserting that Dr. Bernard was an activist and baselessly questioning whether she had reported child abuse to the police,” the suit reads.
Bernard and Caldwell say Rokita’s office investigated those and other complaints in recent months despite possessing information that proves them false, issuing multiple subpoenas for confidential medical records as part of the investigations. The lawsuit seeks to stop Rokita from using the complaints to issue subpoenas.
“In addition to exceeding the Attorney General’s authority to investigate, the Attorney General’s overreach in seeking these irrelevant medical records poses a significant threat to patient privacy and the confidentiality of medical records,” the suit says.
Kelly Stevenson, Rokita’s press secretary, said the office investigates thousands of potential licensing and privacy violations annually under statutory requirements.
“A majority of the complaints we receive are, in fact, from nonpatients,” Stevenson said. “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.”
Bernard previously moved to sue Rokita for making “false and misleading” statements about her, including some statements listed in the new suit as evidence of confidentiality violations.
The two physicians on Thursday alleged Rokita violated requirements to keep consumer complaint investigations confidential, outlining a series of interviews and press releases the attorney general conducted as he pursued the investigations.
Updated at 3 p.m.