Statistics and Complications Who Were Someone's Daughter

by Susan Wills

November 19, 2004

This time, the I-told-you-so catches in the throat.

The death of a young person produces a terrible void. Who can be indifferent to the loss of a unique human being and her capacity to love, to create and do good? Who could be insensitive to the raw grief of family members and count the death as nothing more than a statistical blip?

Apparently the folks at Danco Laboratories can.

Danco, the U.S. distributor of RU-486 (Mifeprex), seems quite willing to overlook another death – or three (in the U.S.) or seven (including Canada, the U.K. and Sweden) so long as it can keep selling the "magic pill" to make pregnancy disappear. And if the pregnant mothers disappear too, well that's just "a rare complication."

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is acting no better. On November 15, the FDA decided not to suspend distribution of RU-486 even after the 7th reported death in recent years associated with an RU-486 abortion, after 676 "adverse event" reports including 17 ectopic pregnancies, 72 cases where blood transfusions were needed, and 7 serious infections. Instead, it's content to beef up the warning labels and belatedly include Emergency Room Directors in their mass mailing because – go figure – lots of teens and young women who take RU-486 end up in emergency rooms.

Responsible medical associations and the pro-life community have warned the FDA for nearly a decade about the dangers inherent in the RU-486/misoprostol combination. Citizens Petitions were filed with the FDA both during and after its dubious fast-tracked approval in the waning months of the Clinton presidency.

There are three main ways that RU-486 is potentially lethal to women: bleeding to death, infection, and ruptured ectopic pregnancy. Why? Because the pills always cause bleeding and pain which can mask potentially fatal problems.

We can now put names to these risks.

In June 2003 Rebecca Tell Berg, a Swedish teen, bled to death. She didn't go to the hospital because she was told to expect to bleed for two weeks. Dr. Mark Louviere narrowly saved the life of a woman from Waterloo, Iowa who'd lost one-half to two-thirds her blood volume after an RU-486 abortion.

Eighteen-year-old Holly Patterson of Livermore, California died in September 2003 from an infection following an RU-486 abortion. A Canadian woman died in September 2001 from infection, her death suspending the Canadian RU-486 drug trials. The most recent U.S. victim also died from an RU-486-related infection.

Brenda Vise of Hamilton County, Tennessee died in September 2001 from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy after undergoing an RU-486 abortion. Because RU-486 is ineffective in ending such pregnancies, they are supposed to be ruled out in advance. Dana Powell of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio was luckier: after taking RU-486 in October 2002, a ruptured ectopic pregnancy destroyed one fallopian tube, but she survived.

There are many such stories among the 676 adverse event reports filed with the FDA. In November 2003, Congressmen Jim DeMint and Roscoe Bartlett and Senator Rick Santorum introduced bills ("Holly's Law") to suspend FDA approval of RU-486 pending review of its safety. If the FDA cannot be relied upon to protect young women from this dangerous and unnecessary drug, Congress should step in and do so.

Susan Wills is associate director for education, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.