The lawyer for a doctor who provided abortion services to a 10-year-old rape victim moved to file a defamation lawsuit against Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita.
An attorney for Dr. Caitlin Bernard on Tuesday filed a tort claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, after Rokita told local and national media outlets that he was investigating the doctor after she performed the procedure on a patient who could not get an abortion in her home state of Ohio.
Rokita’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ohio enacted a “fetal heartbeat” law, banning abortions at around the six-week mark of pregnancy, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe. v Wade last month. The girl was just over six weeks pregnant, Bernard told The Indianapolis Star.
Indiana legislators are preparing for a special session to debate banning abortion later in July, but the procedure is currently still legal in the state.
Last week, Rokita appeared on Fox News and said he was investigating Bernard after she told The Indianapolis Star about treating the girl. He said he was “gathering the evidence” against Bernard, “including looking at her licensure” and whether “she failed to report” the procedure in Indiana because “it’s a crime to not report, to intentionally not report.”
The attorney general also said in the segment that Bernard was an “abortion activist acting as a doctor” with a “history of failing to report.”
Rokita repeated many of his Fox News remarks in a statement through his office, prompting Bernard’s attorney on Friday to send the attorney general a cease-and-desist letter. In his statement, Rokita further questioned whether Bernard violated health privacy laws by discussing the girl’s case with The Indianapolis Star.
“Mr. Rokita’s false and misleading statements about alleged misconduct by Dr. Bernard in her profession constitute defamation per se,” Tuesday’s tort claim reads.
“The statements have been and continue to be published by or on behalf of Mr. Rokita and the Office of the Attorney General. To the extent that these statements exceed the general scope of Mr. Rokita’s authority as Indiana’s Attorney General, the statement forms the basis of an actionable defamation claim against Mr. Rokita individually.”
The tort claim says Rokita either knew his comments were false or he “acted with reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the statements.”
In regard to his Fox News remarks that Bernard was an “abortion activist” that had a “history of failing to report,” her attorneys said in the claim that a check of Indiana’s medical license database would have shown that the physician had “no disciplinary history.”
Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, previously said that an investigation found that the physician was “in compliance with privacy laws.”
NBC News also obtained a Terminated Pregnancy Report from the Indiana Department of Health showing Bernard had reported the procedure within the required timeframe.
Dareh Gregorian contributed.