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Collateral Damage

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August 2012

Our ability to dream is one of God’s most amazing gifts to us.  It’s also one of His most mysterious.  The ancients believed that dreams were the portals through which the gods transmitted wisdom.  Sigmund Freud saw them as outlets for repressed desires.  Others theorize that dreams function to make sense of the brain’s random signals, organize information, solve problems, or cope with trauma.  Whatever the reason, our dreams can be amusing, puzzling, or even frightening.  We call the latter nightmares. Fortunately, they end when we wake.  They might leave us agitated for a bit, but we tend to move forward quickly.

We think of nightmares as fantasies, but there are those that are all too real-and worse than anything our minds can dream.  For parents, it’s a call in the middle of the night.  For Monty Patterson, it was a call near the start of the day.  His 18-year old daughter Holly had been admitted to a hospital near their home.  Though she was a fitness buff, she was semiconscious and fighting to breathe.  During the prior weekend she wasn’t feeling well, which she had claimed was due to routine menstrual cramps.  But now she was in septic shock, her body overwhelmed by infection.  Doctors told Monty that Holly might not survive.  Before long, Holly’s blood pressure dropped.  Panicky medical personnel called a code-blue and ushered Monty out of the room.  From the hallway, he pleaded for Holly to fight.  She couldn’t.  Just before 2:00 p.m. on September 17, 2003, Holly Patterson died.

Eighteen-year olds are not supposed to die, but they do, sometimes from avoidable causes like drunk driving or illegal drug use.  But Holly died from legal drug use.  Holly was pregnant, and shortly after turning eighteen Holly went to a Planned Parenthood clinic for an abortion.  She was given a pill that she took at the clinic.  She received four other tablets with instructions to insert them vaginally the next day at home.  She was also given a prescription painkiller.  Two days after taking the four tablets, she called the clinic to report severe cramps.  Later still in pain, she later told an emergency room doctor about the abortion.  She was given more painkillers.  By September 16, she was weak, vomiting, and unable to walk.  The next day she died.

Three years before Holly died, the FDA approved those pills as safe and effective for early pregnancy termination.  The first is mifepristone, sold as Mifeprex but commonly known as RU-486.  Its purpose is to kill an unborn baby by blocking progesterone, the hormone essential to a pregnancy.  The drug causes vascular damage, bleeding, and ultimately the detachment of a developing unborn baby from a mother’s uterine wall.  The second drug, misoprostol, causes the uterine contractions, throwing the woman into a labor that expels the dead baby.  The duo is touted as providing an alternative to surgical abortion and as allowing a measure of privacy.  With them, abortion can be accomplished at home.

There was opposition to the FDA’s approval decision.  Pro-life medical and women’s groups argued that the FDA placed RU-486 on a fast-track intended only for drugs battling life-threatening illnesses.  The drugs had not been tested on adolescent girls, a group that surely would be given them.  And contrary to FDA guidelines, clinics were telling women to take the misoprostol vaginally rather than orally in order to prevent nausea.

As predicted, serious problems surfaced, problems beyond the expected side effects of cramping, bleeding, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and chills. Mifepristone impedes a body’s antibacterial defenses, a vital part of our immune system.  It makes women highly vulnerable to the bacteria clostridium sordellii, found in ten percent of all women.  It migrates to intestinal and genital tracts and is usually harmless. But because the effects of mifepristone can last for a week, a sepsis has time to do its deadly work.  Holly Patterson died from sepsis caused by the bacteria.  Mifepristone also interferes with a body’s ability to control uterine hemorrhage. It is ineffective against an ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy in which the baby grows inside a fallopian tube.  If the location of the pregnancy goes undetected the tube will likely rupture, but a woman on mifepristone might mistake why she is bleeding.  Death can be painful.  And studies also show that up to 20% of mifepristone abortions require surgical intervention to complete them.

In April 2011, the FDA quietly issued a report about the complications from the drugs.  Because disclosure is voluntary, the report may only reveal the tip of the iceberg.  The FDA reported 2,207 “adverse events,” 612 of which required hospitalizations.  In 339 cases, blood losses were extensive enough to require transfusions.  Women suffered 256 infections, 48 severe.   There were 58 ectopic pregnancies among women using mifepristone. The FDA reported fourteen U.S. deaths, including eight from sepsis.  It reported five additional deaths in foreign countries. Of course, statistics don’t tell the full story. No one at Planned Parenthood told Abby Johnson about the agonizing labor or the eight weeks of blood clots, nausea, heavy bleeding, and excruciating cramps to come.  But at least she lived to tell her story.  Not so for 18-year old Manon Jones, who suffered a seizure, cardiac arrest, huge blood loss, and shock from retaining part of her baby in her womb.  Now her grieving parents must live a nightmare.

With all these problems, politicians should be tripping over themselves in outcry.  The FDA should be banning the use of the pill for abortion.  Neither is happening.  Why?  The reason is unspoken but simple: mifepristone is designed to kill.  The Pattersons, Joneses, and others who have come within range of mifepristone are the collateral damage of an ungodly war on unborn human life.  But for those who approve, market, distribute, and support the killer-pill, the damage to women and their loved ones falls under the category, “too bad but can’t be helped.”

It can be helped-by us.  Mifepristone abortions must be stopped.  For the collateral damage they cause is no less real than the direct hit.  And no less painful.

Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics.  He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, and have six kids.

© 2012 Paul V. Esposito.  Culture of Life.  Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted.  Comments?  Visit us at

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