A Father's Crusade: The Dangers of the Abortion Pill Mifeprex

For Monty Patterson, the debate over the abortion drug mifepristone isn't political -- it's personal. His 18-year-old daughter died a sudden and painful death after taking the drug. Now he is fighting to save other women's lives.
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The Death of a Daughter

Monty Patterson first heard of the drug mifepristone on September 17, 2003, the worst day of his life. A call came while he was at work: His 18-year-old daughter, Holly, was in the hospital and very sick; he needed to hurry. Patterson sped to ValleyCare Medical Center near the San Francisco suburb of Livermore, where he and Holly lived. He found her in the intensive care unit, semiconscious and struggling to breathe. It made no sense. Holly, a beautiful, blue-eyed blonde, was a fitness buff in perfect health. She hadn't felt well over the weekend, but she'd blamed it on painful menstrual cramps, not unusual for her. Now a doctor was saying she might not survive. "Septic shock," Patterson says he was told. "We think it's complications from the abortion pill she took."

Patterson stared at him. Abortion? Holly was pregnant? What pill? Suddenly the crisis deepened. Holly was worsening, she needed a ventilator, her blood pressure was dropping. He heard the panicked words "code blue!" and was hustled from the room. He stood outside the door with his fiancee, his son, Holly's only sibling, and her boyfriend. All of them were crying and calling out: "Don't give up! We love you, Holly!" Holly's mother, Debbie, who was long divorced from Patterson and lived in Southern California and whom he'd phoned earlier, was still on a plane. She would arrive too late. Holly died just before 2 p.m.

Complications from Mifepristone

In the nightmarish period following Holly's death, Patterson learned that on September 10 his daughter had chosen to end an unwanted pregnancy with what is called a medication abortion. Medication abortion is pregnancy termination, though it's performed very differently than traditional surgical abortion (usually vacuum aspiration done in a doctor's office or clinic). Approved for use in this country five years ago, medication abortion involves taking two prescription drugs. The first is mifepristone, sold here as Mifeprex but commonly known by its European name, RU-486. It blocks the hormone progesterone, necessary to sustain the pregnancy. The second drug, taken a few days later, is a prostaglandin called misoprostol, which causes the uterus to contract and expel its contents. Medication abortion has been used in Europe for more than a decade and has been promoted as a safe and simple alternative to surgical abortion. (This procedure is not to be confused with the emergency contraceptive known as "the morning-after pill" or "Plan B," which prevents conception after unprotected sex but won't affect a pregnancy that already exists.)

The day Holly died, Patterson says he was told by officials from Planned Parenthood, at whose Hayward clinic Holly had arranged her abortion, that nothing like this had ever happened before. Patterson didn't believe them. "Something's wrong here and I will find out what," he vowed.

Continued on page 2:  Holly's Last Moments


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