The Telling Backstory of One Doctor-Plaintiff in the Mifepristone Case

But Johnson dragged out the case for more than a year, into his first months of elected office. His lawyers (along with lawyers for the hospital) asked for and were granted four extensions, claiming they needed more time to conduct depositions with experts and witnesses. Then Johnson tried to have the case proceedings paused and the court records sealed from the public. “It is clear that various interested parties have publicized this lawsuit, needlessly and unfairly litigating this case in public media,” the motion stated. “Dr. Johnson’s professional and personal reputations have been damaged through these tactics.” Further, he was entitled to temporarily stop the case due to “privileges and immunities afforded to Dr. Johnson as an Indiana state senator.” In May 2023, a judge decided to keep the records public but did pause the malpractice suit until 30 days following the legislative session. The case was at last resolved in July 2023 with an undisclosed settlement. By then, Esperanza Umana’s mother had heard Johnson telling the press on the campaign trail that “you can talk to any physician: Medical malpractice happens.” Her response? “How heartless can you be making that statement. There are families behind this. There’s a child behind this.”

As the malpractice suit dragged on, and the mifepristone case sped its way to the Supreme Court, the recently elected state Senator Johnson was at work, sponsoring legislation that would ban access to hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and surgery for trans youth in Indiana. Johnson called such treatment, which meets the current standards of care for trans youth, “irreversible, unproven and life-altering procedures.” In January 2023, he introduced Senate Bill 480, which allowed for civil penalties against health care providers who offered anyone under the age of 18 that treatment or who “aided and abetted” another practitioner to do the same. Gender-affirming health care for minors, under S.B. 480, would be considered itself a violation of the standards of medical practice, subject to discipline by the board regulating that provider.

In February, Matt Sharp, an attorney for the Christian-right legal outfit Alliance Defending Freedom, came to the Indiana state legislature to testify in support of Johnson’s legislation. That’s not unusual; ADF has led efforts to pass such bills across the United States. But ADF was also then representing Johnson and the other plaintiffs in the mifepristone case. Sharp said ADF simply wanted to be a “resource” for legislators like Johnson. But he also noted the larger impact of such “resource” sharing: “States are the laboratories of democracy. It’s where a lot of ideas start then eventually bubble their way up to Congress.” In April, S.B. 480 became law. ADF has since filed a brief defending the ban in a legal challenge. (Johnson and ADF did not respond by publication to questions sent by email.)