New Mexico Supreme Court lets unwanted abortion case proceed

The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that an Albuquerque hospital and a doctor who worked there can face a civil trial in which a woman claims maltreatment resulted in an unwanted abortion.

The court recently decided 4-1 to send the case back to state District Court, overturning a Court of Appeals ruling that Lovelace Health System, Women’s Specialists of New Mexico and Dr. Kristina Chongsiriwatana could not be sued because the woman had waited too long to name them in a malpractice lawsuit. The appeals court had upheld a similar decision in District Court.

Marlina Romero’s complaint says she went to Lovelace Medical Center in June 2011 complaining about a sharp pain in her lower abdomen and left side near her pelvis. After hormone tests, doctors found she was four weeks’ pregnant.

A doctor who signed off on ultrasound scans said there was a cyst on Romero’s right ovary, with a “ring of fire” — a sign of a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, or pregnancy outside the uterus, according to the lawsuit. Romero was transferred to Lovelace Women’s Hospital.

Chongsiriwatana, at Lovelace, found no such pregnancy and drained the cyst, the suit says.

“Despite having discovered no visible evidence of an ectopic pregnancy, Dr. Chongsiriwatana treated [Romero] with methotrexate, which carries a high risk for birth defects,” the suit says, adding Romero, who had been anesthetized, could not consent to the treatment at the time.

Methotrexate is a medication that stops cells from dividing.

Six days later, Romero returned to Chongsiriwatana still in pain. After an ultrasound, her suit says, Chongsiriwatana told Romero she had a normal pregnancy and should not have been given methotrexate, and that Romero “must abort it due to possible birth defects.”

The Supreme Court was tasked with determining if the District Court and Court of Appeals were correct in saying Romero failed to identify the defendants before a time limit had expired and therefore could not sue them.

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