THE STORIES BEHIND THE DEATHS ASSOCIATED WITH RU486: PART THREE

Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.

Back in July, we shared with you the news about an FDA report revealing that there had been at least 14 deaths associated with use of the abortifacient RU486 and its companion pill, misoprostol, in the U.S. since its approval here in September of 2000. In addition there had been five more uncovered in other countries (See NRL News Today, July 14 and July 16, 2011).  In those articles, we talked about the complications that killed those women and why these drugs pose a particular danger to women who use to chemically abort their babies.  In this special series, we’re going to look at the individual stories of the women who died. Based on publicly available documents we will look at who they were, the families they came from, and how the chemical abortions they thought would be safe and simple turned out lethal not only to their unborn babies but themselves.  These are stories of the human cost of the abortion pill you won’t hear about at the abortion clinic.

RU486 Death Number 3:
Brenda Vise, September 12, 2001
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Brenda Vise was a pharmaceutical representative who probably knew how to read drug warning labels. Yet when the unmarried 38-year old Chattanooga found she was pregnant through a home pregnancy test, she made a September 7 appointment with a clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee, 100 miles away, which was advertising the new abortion drug RU486. (To be precise chemical abortions with RU486 actually involve two drugs–RU486,also known by its generic name, mifepristone, and the prostaglandin, misoprostol.)

A test at the clinic confirmed she was pregnant. But when technicians doing an ultrasound found nothing in her uterus, Vise was told the baby was simply “too small to be seen,” even though she was six weeks pregnant and the child of that age and size should have been seen if implanted in the uterus.

The clinic told her about the chemical abortion procedure and informed Vise that side effects were mild and short lived.  She saw nothing in the marketing materials that told her she was in any special danger. Vise took the mifepristone pills at the clinic and was given misoprostol to take later at home.

The FDA-approved protocol says that patients are to return two days following administration of RU486 to have a doctor administer the prostaglandin, misoprostol. But the clinic told Vise to administer the misoprostol to herself and to come back for a follow up in two weeks.

When she began to experience severe pain and bleeding, Vise called the clinic. They advised her that her symptoms were “normal and routine.”  She called back multiple times and got the same answer.  When her condition worsened, the clinic suggested some different medications for the pain and nausea.

Informed that Vise’s body temperature was substantially below normal and that she was experiencing significant pelvic pain, the clinic continued to assert that these symptoms were normal, “to be expected,” nothing to be concerned about.

Finally, after repeated phone calls, the clinic agreed to see Vise again on Monday, September 10.  They advised her not to go to a local hospital there in Chattanooga because the clinic said none of those hospitals would have knowledge about the drugs she had taken. 

Vise’s boyfriend tried to transport her Knoxville, but was unsuccessful, finally deciding to call an ambulance which transported her to a hospital there in the Chattanooga area.

Admitted in very critical condition, doctors found through exploratory surgery that Vise had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. That previously undiscovered rupture led to a massive infection that eventually resulted in a collapse of her vital systems.  

By Wednesday, September 12, Vise had slipped into a coma. She died later that day.

Reaction from the promoters of the abortion pill on the death of Brenda Vise are hard to find, though the FDA did publish a warning after her death reminding doctors that RU486 was ineffective in situations of ectopic pregnancy.

Despite the warning, statistics released by the FDA in April of 2011, show that undetected or untreated ectopic pregnancy continues to be a problem for RU486 patients.  According to that report, at least 58 patients have been hospitalized with ectopic pregnancies. At least one more those women besides Vise has died.

Vise’s case illustrates that perhaps the most problematic feature of chemically induced abortions is not a concern that these drugs cause infections or tubal pregnancies, but that the process itself may mask signs of these  dangerous conditions.

Chemical abortions involving RU486 actually involve at least two drugs taken over a period of several days and multiple visits to the doctor’s office. A woman is given the RU486 pills at her first visit, which she takes in her doctor’s office. These pills shut down the baby’s life support system, depriving the developing child of needed nutrients.

A prostaglandin, usually misoprostol, taken days later, initiates powerful uterine contractions to expel the tiny child’s emaciated corpse. The FDA protocol recommends a final doctor visit to confirms whether or not the abortion has taken place.

These chemical abortions are a bloody, messy, painful affair. Cramping may be severe, and may be accompanied by serious nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Bleeding is often heavy and persistent.  The process may take days, if not weeks.

Normally, doctors encountering such symptoms would suspect a ruptured ectopic pregnancy or look for a serious reproductive tract infection and respond accordingly. Yet because these signs are expected side effects of chemical abortions, clinicians and counselors don’t always fully consider or investigate other possible causes right away.

This was clearly true in the case of Brenda Vise.  Even with trained clinicians doing an ultrasound, Vise’s ectopic pregnancy was not discovered. Clear signs and desperate calls were ignored or discounted by the clinic, masked by their expectations of heavy bleeding, cramping, and pain.

And so it was, by the time Brenda Vise got to the hospital, it was too late.

Information for this report taken from the lawsuit, Estate of Brenda C. Vise vs. Volunteer Women’s Medical Clinic filed in Hamilton County, TN Circuit Court in 2002 the by Vise’s family against the clinic and doctors who gave her the abortifacient.  That suit was reported on and reproduced in The Chattanoogan.com on August 14, 2002 (www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_25209.asp) and was accessed on 4/21/04.

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