Teen dies after complications from abortion pill
Monday, September 22, 2003 Posted: 2:02 PM EDT (1802 GMT)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Holly Marie Patterson went to a Planned Parenthood clinic two weeks ago to quietly consider ways to handle a life change she wasn't ready for. One week later, the 18-year-old lay dying on an emergency room table, the victim of complications after she took the abortion pill.
Patterson's death is likely to reignite the debate surrounding RU-486, the pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration two years ago as a way for women to end pregnancies themselves.
Her father is hoping the tragedy will encourage other women considering abortion to seek support, especially from their families.
"Every time I think about it, I think, 'She suffered in silence,"' said Monty Patterson, who said he did not know his daughter was pregnant or taking abortion drugs. "She felt she would disappoint everyone around her, and then she had to carry that whole load. I wish she could have told me so I could have helped her."
Holly Patterson, who lived in the San Francisco suburb of Livermore, visited a Planned Parenthood clinic September 10 to take the pill. She followed the prescribed procedure for using RU-486, taking two more pills at home three days later.
After experiencing bleeding and cramps so severe that she was unable to walk, her boyfriend rushed her to the hospital the following evening, where she was given painkillers and sent home. Three nights later, she was back in the hospital. She died the following day.
An autopsy has been scheduled to determine the cause of Holly's death. But Monty Patterson said he learned from an attending physician at the hospital that she had died after a massive infection caused by fragments of the fetus left inside her uterus caused her to go into septic shock. Planned Parenthood also said it is investigating Patterson's death.
A spokeswoman for Danco Laboratories, which makes RU-486, estimated that 200,000 women in the United States and more than 1 million worldwide have used the pill since it was invented in France in the 1980s.
Two women who took it in the United States have died, although the FDA says it is unclear if their deaths were directly related to the pill's use.
Patients who take RU-486 take the first pill under the care of a physician. A second medication called misoprostol, taken three days later, induces labor so the embryo can be expelled. In 5 to 8 percent of cases, surgery is required to stop the patient's bleeding.
Planned Parenthood's website compares the process to having a miscarriage. Five to eight percent of cases require surgery, either to stop a patient's bleeding or to complete the abortion.
Eric Schaff, chair of the National Abortion Federation, which promotes non-surgical abortion, said aspirin causes more deaths than RU-486.
But anti-abortion groups such as the National Right to Life Committee insist that the pills "offer a whole new set of significant risks," and makes abortion seem too simple. A report on the group's Web site says the pill gives "supporters of abortion a chance to change the image of abortion, making it seem as simple as taking a pill."
Although he said he did not blame the pill for his daughter's death, Monty Patterson regretted that she and her boyfriend hadn't received more information and support from family members, counselors and physicians.
"What's disturbing is these young couples, they are relying upon what they think is good, solid info, and relying on what they think is a supportive network telling them everything is OK," he said. "I would have said, 'You know what, they don't know everything. Let's get more information."'
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