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Physicians file motion to block anti-abortion group's access to terminated pregnancy reports

Dr. Caitlin Bernard in front of a microphone during a hearing.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
The motion highlights last year’s state medical board decision against one of the providers on the motion, Dr. Caitlin Bernard. The board determined even partial disclosure of information violated privacy protections.

Voices for Life, an anti-abortion group, filed a lawsuit last month against the Indiana Department of Health to regain access to individual terminated pregnancy reports. The agency stopped sharing them last year, citing patient privacy concerns.

Two Indiana physicians who provide abortion care in the state filed a motion Tuesday to prevent the organization from obtaining the reports.

The motion said the providers have a personal stake in the outcome of the case for a variety of reasons, such as “avoiding conflict of legal duties” and protecting patient privacy.

With fewer patients receiving abortions following the near-total abortion ban, IDOH raised concerns last year that releasing the full individual reports could violate patient confidentiality — especially with increased reporting requirements added in 2022. The motion pointed to similar concerns.

The Lawyering Project, the group representing the physicians, said the 31 data points required on the reports can be used to identify individual patients.

The motion highlights last year’s state medical board decision against one of the providers on the motion, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, which determined even partial disclosure of information violated privacy protections.

Dr. Caitlin Bernard received a letter of reprimand and a fine in 2023 over a patient privacy complaint Rokita filed to the Indiana Medical Licensing Board. It was related abortion care she provided shortly after Ohio’s six-week ban took effect. Bernard told an Indianapolis Star reporter about providing care to a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim. The Medical Licensing Board decided that was enough information to violate federal and state confidentiality laws.

The public access counselor also cited the state medical board decision when it agreed with the IDOH’s concerns in an informal opinion.

Stephanie Toti, the executive director of the Lawyering Project, said in a statement the providers are committed to protecting their patients' privacy and dignity.

“People who need an abortion deserve access to confidential medical care without being exposed to harassment and intimidation by anti-abortion extremists,” Toti said.

The motion also said the providers have an interest in preventing Attorney General Todd Rokita’s interpretation of the statute from becoming law.

READ MORE: Expert: Legal discussion on terminated pregnancy reports in complicated 'gray' area

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Rokita released an advisory opinion in April which said the decision to not disclose the reports complicates enforcement of Indiana law. The physicians’ motion said the providers want to avoid “unauthorized surveillance by a private organization with no relevant expertise.” It argues the anti-abortion group behind the suit is not a neutral public servant.

The motion said the representation by the parties currently involved does not adequately address physician concerns.

If the court grants the motion, both doctors will be able to intervene as defendants.

Abigail is our health reporter. Contact them at aruhman@wboi.org.

Abigail Ruhman covers statewide health issues. Previously, they were a reporter for KBIA, the public radio station in Columbia, Missouri. Ruhman graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.