Abortion Pill Dangers Surface in Europe, Pacific

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL Director of Education & Research

Two reports this year from overseas, one from Portugal, the other from Australia, confirm what pro-lifers have been telling people for over a dozen years –– chemical abortions using the RU486 abortion technique are not only deadly for unborn children they are also unsafe for their mothers.

Although most people are unaware, bleeding issues with the chemical abortion method are serious. Also, as we shall see that the two-drug RU486 abortion technique may compromise a woman’s immune system was first suspected years ago.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) held a conference after at least half a dozen RU486 patients in North America died, four from Clostridium sordellii infections.

C. sordellii is actually a quite common bacterium, found in soil and often in the human intestinal tract. Actual infections with C. sordellii, however, are quite rare, occurring only when the bacteria gets into the bloodstream and begins to wreak havoc.

Presenters at the CDC/FDA conference offered evidence that the process suppressed a woman’s immune system and exposed her to deadly toxins. But since European use of RU486 had resulted in no occurrences of C. sordellii, officials concluded that it was being pregnant that put the woman at risk of the infection, not having a chemical abortion (NRL News, May 2006).

On its face this made little to no sense. There had been very few cases of C. sordellii, among millions of pregnancies stretching out over several decades while there had been at least four cases in just a couple of years from less than a few hundred thousand RU abortions.

A report of a fatal C. sordellii infection in Portugal, however, associated with RU486, has recently surfaced at a medical conference in Europe.  According to an abstract submitted for publication to the 21st European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases conference May 7-10 in Milan, Italy, a 16-year-old girl died from a C. sordellii toxic shock syndrome after having an abortion with mifepristone (RU486) and the prostaglandin misoprostol.

Though the dosages and administration differed from the procedure outlined by the FDA in the U.S., the young girl followed a protocol common in both America and Europe: 200 mg of mifepristone taken orally followed by 800 mg of misoprostol inserted vaginally. (The FDA approved protocol doubles the dose of mifepristone and halves the dose of misoprostol, and recommends that both be taken by mouth.)

Five days after receiving the mifepristone, the young girl showed up at the emergency room of a maternity hospital complaining of abdominal cramping and being lightheaded, according to the abstract.  She was alert, with low blood pressure, and not running any fever.  However, within a few hours, her white blood count had soared, her blood had thickened, and she was fighting a serious infection.

She underwent a hysterectomy and was put in the ICU.  She died within 18 hours after showing up at the ER.  Forty eight hours later, a culture taken from her uterine biopsy revealed C. sordellii as the cause of the aggressive, deadly infection.

The case of the young girl in Portugal bears a striking resemblance  to cases seen in the United States and Canada.  A Canadian woman died of a massive C. sordellii infection in September of 2001 about a week after taking RU486. 

San Francisco teen Holly Patterson died of the same sort of infection a week after her chemical abortion.  Vivian Tran, a 22 year old mother of three, died within a week of her RU486 abortion in December of 2003.  Twenty-two year old Chanelle Bryant, “perfectly healthy” before her mifepristone abortion,  died of an infection in January of 2004. 

Orianne Shevin, a 34-year-old mother of two, died of an infection in May of 2004 after her chemical abortion.  Other women have died from heart attacks, blood loss, or ruptured ectopic pregnancies that went undetected. (For more details, see NRL fact sheet “Deaths Associated with RU-486″ at www.nrlc.org.)

Some researchers have pointed to what they think are RU486’s immunosuppressant properties that allow a common pathogen like C. sordellii to become deadly.  Others think that the prostaglandin misoprostol is responsible for the compromise of the immune system.  Still others have expressed concern that the vaginal, rather than the oral administration of the misoprostol may be responsible for introducing the organism into the woman’s reproductive system, where the anaerobic bacteria may thrive in the open, bleeding wound created by the chemical abortion. 

After a couple of its own RU486 patients died, Planned Parenthood ceased the vaginal administration of misoprostol and added a prophylactic antibiotic. However other abortionists have not followed suit.  Infections and other complications were reduced at Planned Parenthood following the protocol change, but they were not eliminated (NRL News, September, 2009).

Just this year a separate report from Australia, where the chemical abortion method was introduced in 2006, confirms that these abortions are indeed riskier than the surgical abortions they replaced.

One of mifepristone’s selling points was supposed to be that it allowed women to avoid the risk of a surgical abortion.

But according to the audit of nearly 7,000 abortions done in South Australia in 2009 reported on  in the May 7, 2011, edition of The Australian, 3.3% of women using mifepristone for first trimester abortions ended up visiting hospital emergency rooms—roughly one every 30 women.  The rate for women undergoing surgical abortions was still high – 2.2.% – but significantly lower than for the chemical abortions.

Hospital admissions for those undergoing early chemical abortions (time not specified in the article) were 5.7%, about one out of every 18 women.  Only 0.4% of the surgical patients were readmitted for post-operative treatment.

While many women express concern about the risks of surgical abortion, the risk of hemorrhage turned out to be significantly greater with mifepristone. Just two out of the 5,823 surgical patients suffered severe hemorrhage, or about one out of every 3,000.  On the other hand, four of the 947 chemical abortion patients hemorrhaged, which is about one in every 200.

Hospital admissions for infection was one in 1,500 for surgical abortion, but one in 480 for chemical abortions.

Final outcomes are not listed in The Australian article, but the headline says it all: “Abortion pill ‘less safe than surgery’.”

Of course, neither surgical nor chemical abortions are entirely safe for the mother and at least one innocent life is lost with every abortion. 

But what these reports show is that while the abortion pill has opened up new marketing avenues for the abortion industry, the new methods have not made abortion safer. As a matter of fact, they have made it riskier than ever. 

That the industry would continue to promote and use these dangerous methods shows that they have never had a woman’s health or safety as their primary concern.

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