A state appellate court has ruled that a “morning-after pill” constitutes “prevention” against pregnancy rather than an abortion, and that a hospital may be sued for damages if it fails to tell a rape victim about the pill’s availability.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued its finding in the case of Kathleen Brownfield, who was a 21-year-old Loyola Marymount University student in June, 1985, when she was raped and taken to Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital.
Represented by attorney Gloria Allred, Brownfield sued the Catholic hospital for allegedly refusing to give her or tell her about the estrogen prophylaxis pill Ovral. Only when it was too late, Brownfield complained, did she learn that such a pill must be taken within 72 hours.
No allegation was made that Brownfield, a Catholic, became pregnant.
Allred contended that many Catholic hospitals refuse to prescribe the pill because they believe it “violates Catholic beliefs against abortion.”
Brownfield did not sue for monetary damages, but for an injunction ordering the hospital to provide any rape victim with information and access to the pill--or to transfer such patients to a nearby hospital providing “full emergency treatment.”
The appellate court, however, declined to grant her the right to sue for an injunction, concluding that Brownfield or any other rape victim could sue for damages for whatever injuries she might suffer.
Allred said the decision permitting a rape victim to sue for damages accomplished the same result as though the court had given Brownfield the right to sue for an injunction because hospitals and doctors in California “are on notice . . . that if they do not provide access to the pill or information about it, they can now . . . be sued for significant amounts of money by rape victims.”
Brownfield, now 25, said she felt “very good” about the decision because “rape victims need to be made aware of this treatment option. . . . “