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Caitlin Bernard, abortion doctor of 10-year-old rape victim, can sue Indiana AG Todd Rokita for defamation

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Lawyers for the Indianapolis physician who helped a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio have an abortion, filed Tuesday the first legal step in a potential defamation lawsuit against Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) for his comments in a story that has attracted international attention.

Kathleen DeLaney, on behalf of her client, Caitlin Bernard, filed a tort notice against Rokita for “false and misleading statements” about the obstetrician/gynecologist in the days after she shared how she helped the child, who traveled to Indiana for an abortion.

“Mr. Rokita’s false and misleading statements about alleged misconduct by Dr. Bernard in her profession constitutes defamation necessarily. The statements have been and continue to be published by or on behalf of Mr Rokita and the Attorney General’s office,” the message reads. “To the extent that these statements exceed the general scope of Mr. Rokita’s authority as Attorney General of Indiana, the statement forms the basis of a prosecutable charge of defamation against Mr. Rokita individually.”

Even after Gerson Fuentes was charged with rape in the case last week, Rokita questioned Bernard whether she had reported the proceedings to state officials, as required by law. Data obtained by The Washington Post shows that Bernard reported the girl’s abortion to the relevant government agencies before the legally mandated deadline to do so.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Bernard is seeking unspecified damages to help cover security costs, legal fees, reputational damage and emotional distress, the post said. If Rokita does not investigate or settle the claim within the next 90 days, Bernard may file a defamation lawsuit.

The notice comes as a separate misconduct complaint alleging that Rokita intended to “intimidate” and intimidate doctors who perform abortions when he publicly questioned Bernard’s compliance with state law. The newly filed complaint from Lauren Robel, the former dean of Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, is expected to lead to an investigation by the Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission after Rokita alleged on Fox News last week that Bernard had a “history of not reporting abortions in child abuse cases and quickly launched an investigation into her licensure.

Indiana AG’s comments put abortion provider at risk, complaint says:

“We have this abortion activist acting as a physician with a history of non-reporting,” Rokita told Fox News host Jesse Watters at the time. “We are currently gathering evidence and will fight this to the end, including her licensure. If she didn’t report it in Indiana, it’s a crime to — not report it, deliberately not report it.”

A spokesperson for Rokita’s office dismissed Robel’s complaint this week, saying in an earlier statement to The Post that “any attorney or client can file anything they want, even with no basis, which is the case here.” The attorney general’s office said that while no enforcement actions have been filed against Bernard so far, it will continue its investigation into her conduct.

But the first legal move toward a possible defamation lawsuit has led to a situation that began when Bernard told the Indianapolis Star in an article published on July 1 that she had been called by a doctor in Ohio about a young patient who had been hospitalized for six weeks. and was three days pregnant after being raped. Although the account of the girl’s situation quickly gained international attention and was rejected by President Biden, it was followed by a wave of skepticism from conservative politicians, pundits and media who expressed their doubts. (The Washington Post also published a Fact Checker analysis that initially concluded that the girl’s report was a “very difficult story to verify.”)

The story was confirmed last week when Fuentes, 27, was charged after he allegedly confessed to authorities that he had raped the 10-year-old at least twice. If convicted of first-degree rape, Fuentes could face life in prison.

However, Rokita has since turned his attention to whether Bernard followed proper protocols for reporting the abortion, although documents show she did. Indiana University Health officials also told The Post that Bernard did not violate any privacy laws when she shared an anecdote with the media about the 10-year-old rape victim who needed an abortion.

Doctor in abortion case of 10-year-old was threatened with kidnapping daughter in 2020

In the letter filed Tuesday to Rokita and Indiana state officials, DeLaney wrote that the attorney general has limited powers to investigate complaints against professionals in certain fields, such as physicians. The lawyer noted that state law requires Rokita to “maintain the confidentiality of such complaints” unless he has plans to prosecute.

Although Bernard’s license in Indiana has been “operating with no disciplinary history” since last Wednesday, the report claims the attorney general’s goal was to “raise” the doctor’s public conviction.

“Mr. Rokita either knew the statements were false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth or falsehood of the statements,” the report reads. “Statements that Dr. Bernard has a ‘history of failure to report,’ which Mr. Rokita indicated it would be a crime, committed for lack of reasonable investigation, serve no legitimate law enforcement purposes.Given the current political atmosphere in the United States, Mr. Rokita’s comments were intended to publicly condemn Dr. Bernard, who is legally medical care provided.”

María Luisa Paúl and Kim Bellware contributed to this report.

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