Hundreds of Indiana doctors are coming to the defense of Caitlin Bernard, the OB/GYN who was recently punished by a state licensing board for speaking publicly about performing an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim.
Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star via AP
In public statements, doctors from various specialties speak out against the board’s decision, warning that it could have dangerous implications for public health.
“I hate to say it, I think this is completely political,” says Ram Yeleti, a cardiologist in Indianapolis. “I think the medical board could have decided not to take this case.”
In March 2020, as hospitals around the world were beginning to receive extremely ill patients, Yeleti led a medical team that treated the first Indiana patient to die from COVID. in a Press conference Along with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Yeleti tried to warn the public that the coronavirus was real and deadly.
“I want to explain how real this is,” Yeleti said after stepping up to the microphone to explain the news that day in 2020. “How real this is to all of us.”
He and others provided some basic details: Patient was in his 60s, had other health conditions, and had died from the virus earlier that day in Marion County, Indiana.
“There was a great sense of urgency to get the word out as immediately as possible,” Yeleti says now, reflecting on that moment. “I think we needed to make it happen for people.”
So she was alarmed when the Indiana Medical Licensing Board concluded last week that Bernard had violated patient privacy laws by speaking publicly about his unnamed patient.
Last summer, days after the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. WadeBernardo said The Indianapolis Star he had provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim who had had to cross state lines after Ohio outlawed abortion.
Indiana Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita expressed anger to Bernard after she spoke about the case.
His employer, Indiana University Health, conducted its own review last year and found no privacy violations. But the licensing board took the case after Rokita complainedand voted to rebuke Bernard and fine her $3,000.
in a open letter Signed by more than 500 Indiana doctors, Yeleti is asking the board to reconsider its decision, saying it sets a “dangerous and chilling precedent.” The letter will be published on Sunday in The Indianapolis star.
The Indiana Medical Licensing Board has not responded to requests for comment.
Another doctor who signed the letter, Anita Joshi, is a pediatrician in the small town of Crawfordsville, Indiana. She says that speaking broadly about the types of cases she’s seeing is often part of helping her patients understand potential health risks.
“Very often I say to a mother who, for example, is hesitant to vaccinate her child, ‘Well, you know, we’ve had a 10-year-old boy come down with mumps in this practice,'” Joshi says. .
But now he worries that he could get in trouble for such talk.
The same goes for Bernard Richard, a family medicine physician outside of Indianapolis. He says it’s part of his job to educate the public, just like Dr. Caitlin Bernard did.
“Because of this incident, I had patients tell me, ‘I had no idea someone could get pregnant at 10,'” says Richard. “You can easily see how that could be important when someone is making decisions about controversial issues like abortion. This information is important.”
Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, who teaches pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, shares that concern.
“These stories are devastating. They are heartbreaking. I wish they never existed, but they do,” says Wilkinson. “And I think part of the public’s lack of belief that this could happen, or did happen, is because there aren’t enough people talking about it.”
Wilkinson, who describes herself as a “dear friend” of Dr. Bernard, signed Yeleti’s open letter. She also co-wrote an opinion piece published in Statistics News by the founding members of the Good Trouble Coalition, an advocacy group for health care providers.
the coalition issued his own statement endorsing Bernard and noting that the American Medical Association’s code of ethics says doctors should “seek change” when laws and policies go against the best interests of their patients.
“As a doctor in Indiana, everyone is scared. Everyone is upset,” Wilkinson says. “Everyone wonders if they could be next.”