Indiana attorney general faces ethics case over abortion doctor remarks

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) announces the 2018 budget blueprint during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

By Nate Raymond and David Thomas

(Reuters) - An Indiana judicial watchdog on Monday accused Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita of violating professional conduct rules while making statements about a doctor in the state who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio.

The complaint by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission cited statements Rokita made on Fox News in July 2022 about Dr. Caitlin Bernard in a case that became a flashpoint in the debate over abortion access.

The commission's move is the latest in a state whose highest court in June upheld a law banning nearly all abortions in the state. The Indiana Supreme Court is also the ultimate arbiter for any attorneys charged with misconduct by the commission.

Rokita, who opposes abortion, had opened an investigation into Bernard. During a show hosted by Fox's Jesse Watters, he described her as an "abortion activist acting as a doctor - with a history of failure to report" child abuse cases.

The commission said those comments violated rules barring lawyers from making public statements with a substantial likelihood of "materially prejudicing" a case.

In a written response on Monday, Rokita said he was not required to maintain confidentiality in Bernard's case, claiming she "violated her own duties of confidentiality by disclosing her patient's condition."

Rokita also questioned whether an Indiana confidentiality law invoked by the commission held any power over him, arguing that it only applies to an attorney general's employees.

Bernard has said the Ohio child was referred to her three days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that guaranteed federal abortion rights. Ohio and other states quickly enforced strict limits on abortion in the wake of the ruling, sometimes without exceptions involving rape.

Rokita filed a medical licensing board complaint against Bernard in November, accusing her of violating her patient's privacy rights and failing to immediately report child abuse to Indiana authorities.

The board in May reprimanded Bernard for speaking publicly about her patient's condition in violation of privacy laws and fined her $3,000.

A lawyer for Bernard said she had no comment on the disciplinary case against Rokita.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond and David Thomas; Editing by David Bario and Sonali Paul)