By David Thomas
(Reuters) -A divided Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday publicly reprimanded Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita for statements he made about a doctor in the state who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio.
The court found that Rokita violated professional conduct rules for lawyers when he described Dr. Caitlin Bernard in a July 2022 Fox News interview as an “abortion activist acting as a doctor” who had failed to report past child abuse cases.
Rokita admitted his comments violated rules barring lawyers from making public statements with a substantial likelihood of “materially prejudicing” a case, the state’s high court said.
Two of the panel’s five justices dissented on the proper punishment, calling a public reprimand “too lenient” due to Rokita’s position as attorney general and “the scope and breadth of the admitted misconduct.”
Rokita claimed vindication in a statement, saying he was not found to have violated state law or anyone’s privacy and was not fined. He blamed the disciplinary case on “liberal activists” who “hate the fact that I stand up for liberty.”
Bernard’s case became a flashpoint in the debate over abortion access after the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that guaranteed federal abortion rights.
Rokita accused Bernard in a November 2022 medical licensing board complaint 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, Kathleen DeLaney, said in statement on Thursday that Rokita should apologize after he “admitted to violating two attorney ethics rules by attacking Dr. Bernard on national television.”
Bernard has said the Ohio child was referred to her three days after Roe was overturned.
Ohio and other states quickly enforced strict limits on abortion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, sometimes without exceptions involving rape. The Indiana Supreme Court in June upheld a law banning nearly all abortions in the state.
(Reporting by David Thomas; Editing by David Bario, Nick Macfie and Richard Chang)