France’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation, ordered that damages be paid to a woman and her child after a medical error prevented the woman from having an abortion. Josette Peruche contracted rubella, or German measles, during her first month of pregnancy. When she first believed that she might have been infected, Peruche went directly to her doctor to be tested and indicated to the doctor that if she in fact had rubella that she wanted to abort the fetus. Rubella often causes severe fetal abnormalities and birth defects. Peruche’s doctor assured her that she would have a safe pregnancy in spite of discrepancies with her lab tests. Her child, now eighteen, is deaf, mute, and virtually blind and immobile. Josette Peruche suffered a breakdown after having the child and has had to seek psychiatric care.
The ruling provides monetary damages to both the Peruche family and to the young man, Nicolas Peruche, who is now being cared for by a government institution. Critics of the decision fear that it will spur more malpractice suits, drive up insurance costs, and encourage more abortions. The ruling cannot be appealed.
Rubella is a common reason for abortion. In the early 1960s, the rubella epidemic intensified the debate over legalization of abortion in the United States and became one of the major factors leading to legalization.