CLINTWOOD, Va. (WJHL) — A Southwest Virginia family is suing a Bristol abortion clinic, Dickenson County’s Department of Social Services (DSS) and several individuals for allegedly pressuring their 15-year-old daughter into having an abortion against her will and without legal consent in January.
The civil suit claims a DSS employee pressured the girl into the abortion and that the DSS’s local director tried to retroactively get judicial consent “for the unlawful abortion.” Both are named as defendants along with the abortion clinic’s director, whom the suit accuses of joining in the social worker’s efforts to persuade the girl. The suit also names a doctor from the clinic as a defendant.
The child’s parents are listed as plaintiffs along with the child, identified as “CRFM,” whose abortion was done by a three-pill method.
“It’s just shocking that it happened,” said Tim McAfee, an attorney representing the family. The civil suit seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and a total of $5.4 million in punitive damages.
“Some people would say you killed something,” McAfee told News Channel 11. “The young lady has killed her baby. That’s how she looks at it.”
Diane Derzis owns the clinic, Bristol Women’s Health. She told News Channel 11 of the clinic, “We have never and never would pressure someone to have an abortion.”
Derzis said having such a procedure is a woman’s choice, regardless of age. She offered just one comment specific to the lawsuit.
“I am confident that all the paperwork was done according to state law,” she said.
The suit alleges that CRFM was approximately three months pregnant when the Dickenson County Department of Social Services (DSS) removed her from her father’s care on Jan. 19. She had been staying with her father since August, the suit says, and was placed with a friend of the family.
The suit claims CRFM’s pregnancy “occurred as a result of a conscious choice of CRFM” and that she “intended to take her child to full term and intended to deliver her baby at the appropriate time.”
The suit alleges that a DSS employee persuaded the girl that she should have an abortion and set up an appointment Jan. 19 to take her to Bristol Women’s Health, an abortion clinic. There they met with the clinic’s director, according to the suit.
The suit claims CRFM told the director she didn’t want an abortion, “remained upset throughout the process, and initially refused to cooperate with any abortion.”
CRFM eventually “was persuaded to abort her baby,” though legal consent was never obtained, the suit says. It claims that the director, the DSS employee, the clinic’s physician and the clinic corporately violated CRFM and her parents’ rights.
The suit alleges the DSS employee violated the law and DSS regulations, along with Dickenson County DSS policies, and that Dickenson County DSS didn’t notify the parents. Dickenson County’s DSS Director is also named as a defendant.
It says CRFM had told her mother she didn’t want an abortion but was being pressured by DSS to do so and that she “promised her mother that she was not going to abort the baby.”
The clinic’s physician ordered medication to accomplish the abortion, the suit says. The first pill caused the death of the fetus, and the other two caused it to be expelled from CRFM’s body, which the suit says happened within 48 hours of her leaving the clinic.
Neither CRFM’s parents nor her guardian ad litem was informed of the abortion by DSS and the agency didn’t provide medical records of it to her parents “despite multiple written requests,” the suit alleges.
It further says that DSS has continued to be involved with CRFM even though, according to the suit, they were required to recuse themselves from any further contact after a Jan. 30 notification that claims were being made against DSS and the social worker.
The suit alleges a host of potential negative physical and emotional effects on CRFM. It claims the actions of DSS, the clinic and the people involved interfered with her parents’ rights by not involving them in the decision, not informing them of the abortion and denying access to medical records.
News Channel 11 reached out to DSS around noon Monday to request a comment or statement, but the office was closed for a federal holiday.
For each of the three plaintiffs, the suit seeks $300,000 in punitive damages from six total defendants ($5.4 million total) — DSS, the clinic and four individuals. It also seeks $10 million in compensatory damages.
McAfee said he doesn’t know whether any investigations have been launched into the incident. He said he has been advised through an attorney that the medical records will be sent to him.
While 15-year-olds can legally get abortions without parental consent in Virginia under certain circumstances, “that’s not what happened here,” McAfee said.
He said the case is, “a tragedy beyond measure.”
“Whether you’re, whether you’re pro-life, or pro-choice, it seems to me that what happened here would offend anybody,” McAfee said.
In his view, what is alleged to have taken place amounts to battery of the girl.
“It was not a legal consent, so whatever you did to (CRFM) was legally a battery and part of that battery was, you killed (her) baby,” he said.
News Channel 11 will have further coverage of the lawsuit Monday night.