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

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Holly's Last Moments

In early 2003, Holly Patterson, then 17, embarked on her first serious romantic relationship. Her boyfriend was seven years older than she was and they became sexually intimate. In August she discovered she was pregnant. Holly's boyfriend didn't respond to Ladies' Home Journal's request for an interview, but shortly after her death he told a reporter from the local East Bay Express that she'd immediately decided she wanted an abortion. On September 10, shortly after she turned 18, the couple went to a Planned Parenthood clinic. After receiving counseling and signing a release form, according to records of a court case that was later brought, Holly swallowed a mifepristone tablet at the clinic and was given four tablets of misoprostol with instructions to insert them vaginally at home the next day. She also got an instruction sheet, he said, telling her that she might experience cramps, and that a prescription painkiller could be used to relieve the pain. On September 13 she called the clinic hotline to complain of severe cramping. She was told to take the painkiller. On the 14th her father found her weeping on her bed. She told him she was just having a painful period.

Later, court records show, Holly called the clinic's hotline again. She was told to go to an emergency room if the pain continued. It did, so she went to the ER. The doctor there, whom she told about her abortion, sent her home with yet more painkillers. The pain continued, and by the 16th she was weak, vomiting and unable to walk. Just before dawn on the 17th, her boyfriend rushed her back to the ER, where she died that afternoon.

Debbie, Holly's mother, who'd been estranged from Patterson, retreated into private grief. Filled with rage as well as sorrow, Patterson, who works in the home and commercial building industry and has no degree in science or medicine, turned to the Internet to educate himself about mifepristone. A simple search produced tens of thousands of hits, for the drug was at the center of the battle over abortion that's raged in the United States since Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure in 1973. It was developed in the 1980s by the French pharmaceutical firm Roussel-UCLAF, approved for use in that country in 1988, and by 2002 was widely available in Western Europe. Pro-choice advocates fought for years to bring it to America. It finally was approved for importation, in 1994, though Roussel-UCLAF, worried about consumer boycotts led by pro-life groups, declined to produce it for export. Instead, it donated U.S. patent rights to the Population Council, a nonprofit international research organization focusing in part on reproductive rights, which would conduct clinical trials required by the FDA. Danco Laboratories, a private company, was formed to obtain FDA approval to market it in the United States. Clinical trials involving 2,121 women ran through 1994 to 1995.

On September 28, 2000, Jane E. Henney, MD, the FDA commissioner, announced that after "careful evaluation of the scientific evidence related to [mifepristone's] safe and effective use," the agency had approved the drug for early pregnancy termination. The approved regimen was identical to that being used in Europe: A woman would take three 200-milligram tablets of oral mifepristone on day one and two 200-microgram tablets of oral misoprostol on day three -- both in the doctor's office -- then return for a check-up on day 14. Doctors who prescribed the medication were required to have the ability to diagnose patients for possible ectopic pregnancies, which can't be terminated with mifepristone and can cause internal organ rupture and hemorrhage if allowed to progress. And doctors had to be able to provide surgical intervention if a patient bled excessively or the medication abortion was incomplete, which happened in 2 to 5 percent of cases.

Continued on page 3:  Pills and Politics

 

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