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Doctors fear Indiana AG's threat to abortion provider could have chilling effect on health care

Doctors fear the threat will have a chilling effect on healthcare providers, questioning if they'll be able to legally provide the medical care their patients need.

INDIANAPOLIS — Doctors and lawyers said they're outraged and concerned after Indiana's Attorney General Todd Rokita threatened to go after the doctor who performed a legal abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim who crossed state lines from Ohio to get treatment. 

Rokita released a statement Thursday that said: 

“Aside from the horror caused here by illegal immigration, we are investigating this situation and are waiting for the relevant documents to prove if the abortion and/or the abuse were reported, as Dr. Caitlin Bernard had requirements to do both under Indiana law. The failure to do so constitutes a crime in Indiana, and her behavior could also affect her licensure. Additionally, if a HIPAA violation did occur, that may affect next steps as well. I will not relent in the pursuit of the truth.”

RELATED: AG investigating, so far no evidence doctor in child rape case violated state law

The child's case has been in the international headlines in the days after the Supreme Court overturned the nation's constitutional right to abortion, as Ohio's strict fetal heartbeat law prevented the child from seeking an abortion in her home state.

RELATED: Yes, a 10-year-old did travel from Ohio to Indiana for an abortion due to Ohio’s abortion ban

Now, an attorney for Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the doctor who performed the abortion on the 10-year-old child, has responded to Rokita's threat, releasing a statement that said:

"My client, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, took every appropriate and proper action in accordance with the law and both her medical and ethical training as a physician. She followed all relevant policies, procedures, and regulations in this case, just as she does every day to provide the best possible care for her patients. She has not violated any law, including patient privacy laws, and she has not been disciplined by her employer. We are considering legal action against those who have smeared my client, including Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, and know that the facts will all come out in due time."

Throughout the healthcare community, many are worrying about the impact this threat of legal action from Indiana's top attorney could have on doctors trying to help patients. Those concerns, doctors say, are only expected to grow as lawmakers meet later this month to consider further restricting access to abortions. 

RELATED: Federal court reinstates several Indiana abortion laws

Doctors say this will have a chilling effect on healthcare providers, questioning if they'll be able to legally provide the medical care their patients need.

"People are going to get hurt because physicians are afraid to act," said Dr. Caroline Rouse, a maternal-fetal medicine physician at IU Health.

Rouse works with pregnant women every day. Often, these pregnancies are wanted, hoped for, but due to medical conditions with the mother or baby, Rouse said sometimes, sadly they need to medically manage or terminate pregnancies.

But with the future of abortion in Indiana playing out on the political stage, Rouse said she worries about how future laws and restrictions could stifle a doctor's ability to provide lifesaving medical care.

"I think a lot of medical providers, myself included, are concerned that we are going to be potentially criminalized for providing evidence-based medical care that the patient needs," Rouse said. 

RELATED: 'Doctors must be able to give people the medical care they need': Indy doctor shares first remarks after performing abortion for Ohio 10-year-old

Jennifer Drobac, a law professor at IU's McKinney School of Law, said news of Indiana's attorney general threatening to go after a doctor for providing an abortion is making international news. She's been able to watch the latest on what's unfolding in the Hoosier State from Portugal.

“We’re already seeing the bending of the rules and we’re not only seeing that, but we’re seeing it flashed all over the news internationally. Indiana is going to become this laughingstock,” Drobac said. 

While abortion is still legal in Indiana, Drobac said she is not surprised to see the state's top attorney stretching the law in an effort to target this doctor for helping a pregnant 10-year-old.

"This is not about child abuse, because the abuse and the attack on the child was already reported. This is about somebody's political agenda trying to chill a doctor from providing needed medical services to this poor girl," Drobac said. “What we see is people will make this a political issue no matter what the law is. Because the law is clear. This case has been reported to child protective services, it’s a known case of rape under Ohio law."

Rokita's claims against Bernard focus on allegations that she had potential reporting issues to the state, claims that the doctor and her attorney have denied. 

13News also spoke with attorneys who went through Bernard's record on reporting abortions to the state, they weren't able to identify any issues with her reporting.

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