by Daniel Evans
Friday, February 23, 2001A woman who remained pregnant following a botched abortion three years ago has been awarded $672,610 from Planned Parenthood.As the court clerk read the jury’s award Wednesday, the woman, whose fetus lost two limbs in the abortion attempt before being terminated moths later, lowered her head and wept, convinced her three year court battle was finally over.
And it is, but only for now. An attorney for Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, which oversees nine clinics in the Bay Area, vowed to appeal the award.
“It’s definitely going to be appealed,” Lynn Stocker said Thursday. “Planned Parenthood disagrees with the verdict, and we will be appealing.”
But for the time being, the case is finished.
“I feel that there is justice after all,” the 28-year-old woman said following the decision Wednesday. (The woman is referred to only as “J.B.” in court records, and The Examiner is protecting her identity at her request.)
The three-week trial dealt only with how much J.B. owed for her pain, not whether Planned Parenthood was liable, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Douglas Munson ordered the reproductive rights organization be held responsible for it’s failure to turn over critical medical documents to J.B and her lawyer.
Agency won’t comment
Stocker said she would not comment on why Planned Parenthood refused to turn over the documents, saying only that the organization felt they were “irrelevant” to the woman’s case. But J.B. said the documents – which include internal Planned Parenthood procedures and her medical records – must have contained something the organization didn’t want her to see.
“If someone is covering up the evidence, it’s obvious they have something to hide.” J.B. said. “Why would you wash your hands if they weren’t bloody?”
In October 1997, she discovered she was pregnant and went to Planned Parenthood.
But the care she received at the clinic on Eddy Street was less than ideal, said her lawyer, Chris Dolan. The first-trimester abortion J.B. sought went awry.
Medical experts testified that J.B. was probably pregnant with twins. But the procedure she underwent in December 1997 only fully removed one fetus.
Though she was told the abortion was complete, J.B. said she still felt pregnant two weeks later in a follow–up exam, and called several times for advice. Each time, she was told that her symptoms were normal.
But on Feb. 18 1998, J.B. demanded a urine test. The same nurse who had long assured her nothing was wrong came back horrified J.B. was still pregnant, her lawyer said.
Give a list
She had been carrying the fetus for nearly six months.
The Planned Parenthood clinic does not do abortions late in the second trimester, so she was given an apology, a list of providers who would do abortions in the second trimester, and shooed out the door, Dolan said.
Thought Planned Parenthood did relent and pay for the second abortion, J.B. was emotionally traumatized, something that would only get worse.
An ultrasound at the Buena Vista women center revealed the fetus had only one arm and one leg.
“She see the ultrasound and has an emotional collapse,” Dolan said. “She has to go through a three-day procedure to terminate the fetus’ life, something that absolutely wrecks her”
Since that day, Dolan said, his client has been haunted by visions of babies being killed, has contemplated suicide, and cries uncontrollably at the sight of young children – particularly twins.
“She is like a shattered human being,” said the attorney, adding that J.B. has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“She has been unable to be in a relationship since this happened. She can’t get in close proximity to a man without shaking and sometimes vomiting.
Jury took 2 days
The trial began Feb. 2, and the jury returned it’s verdict after two days of deliberations. They awarded her $650,000 for mental anguish, $1,870 in past medical cost, $14, 500 for future psychiatric expenses and $6,240 in lost earnings.
“I think deciding the economic damages were fairly easy,” said Paul Brown, who served as the jury’s forewoman.
But the non-economic part was more difficult. It’s not really easy to put a dollar amount on someone’s life.”
In the end, however, Brown said the jury went with Dolan’s recommendation, finding it was fair.
Fair or not, the award will be reduced, due to a 1975 California Law that limits non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases to $250,000. Through upheld by the courts on several occasions, the cap has never been increased.
Brown, surprised by this, said the law bordered on the ridiculous. “If it’s our judgment it’s our judgment,” she said. “The 12 people in that room fought for that verdict.
Another juror, Isobel Jones, who appeared on the edge of tears as she discussed the case said the trial was emotionally wrenching. Jones, a corporate lawyer who is herself 28 weeks pregnant, wonders why she was picked for this case at all.
“I don’t know how I did it, but I was told by the judge to be fair, and by God I did it,” she said.
In fact, she noted, at the start of deliberation, she argued J.B. should be given less money than she eventually got. Jones added “It was important for me to be Dispassionate.”