Categories: RU486


Holly Patterson

By Dave Andrusko

It’s almost as if the media has an automatic reminder built into their computers that tells them it is time to do an update on the tragic September 17, 2003, death of Holly Patterson, a vivacious 18-year-old  who had taken the abortifacient RU486. Most likely that’s because of the dogged, unrelenting work of her father, Monte Patterson, who “has spent every waking hour fighting to learn exactly how his daughter died –and to prevent other women and girls from compromising their health, and their lives,” as the San Francisco Chronicle described it a few days ago.

 We ran a story a few months ago about Mr. Patterson’s new website, where he carefully stays out of a discussion over the legality of abortion. Instead he documents the death of his daughter (seven weeks pregnant at the time) who was given RU486 at a Planned Parenthood center.

As he told Julian Guthrie of the Chronicle, after Holly’s death he went to the coroner’s office where he was told Holly had died of septic shock due to an infection in the lining of her uterus. According to Guthrie,

“I wanted to know exactly what kind of infection killed Holly,” said Patterson. The FDA obtained samples of Holly’s tissues, and Patterson learned that a rare bacterium called Clostridium sordelli killed Holly. Her death was the first case of Clostridium sordelli linked to RU-486 reported in the United States. Patterson said that since her death, “I learned of 10 reported deaths from sepsis (serious infection involving the blood) following medical abortions, and nine of these were from Clostridium sordelli and all involved these alternative, off-label treatments.”

Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon is NRLC’s Director of Education and an expert on RU486. At this point I’ve asked Dr. O’Bannon to give a fuller explanation of what happened eight years ago and since.

Since his daughter’s death, Monte Patterson has mounted a full-scale campaign to find out more about the drugs involved in his daughter’s death and to publicize the dangers to women who might be persuaded to take the drugs, unaware of the risks. Hiseducational website,, tells Holly’s story and gives detailed medical information about the drugs which have already been associated with the deaths of at least 14 women in the U.S. and sent hundreds more in the hospital.

The pain and anguish Patterson feels at the loss of his daughter is palpable. Of those last few moments when doctors were struggling to save Holly’s life, Patterson writes, “I will carry that image in my mind for the rest of my life.”

Patterson shares his daughter’s story, how that upon finding out she was pregnant, Holly and her boyfriend searched the Internet and found out about the abortion pill being offered at her local Planned Parenthood clinic. She made an appointment and went with her boyfriend to pick up the pills at the clinic on September 10, 2003. She took an RU486 pill, also known as mifepristone, there at the clinic, and was given four pills of misoprostol, the prostaglandin, to administer to herself, vaginally, the following day.

Experiencing severe cramping on the 13th after administering the misoprostol, she called the clinic hotline, who told her the symptoms were normal and prescribed Tylenol with Codeine. When that failed to resolve the issue, she called again and was told to go the hospital if the pain failed to abate.

Still cramping and bleeding, Holly went to the emergency room on the following day. After telling the attending physician she was undergoing a chemical abortion, the doctor gave her an injection of narcotics and sent her home.

The pain increased and her condition worsened to the point where Holly was weak, vomiting, and unable to walk. She was readmitted to the hospital early in the morning of September 17. She would die later that day when a massive, undetected Clostridium sordellii infection overwhelmed her body.

Her father only learned of the abortion–and her taking the abortion drugs –when he showed up at the hospital to spend with her what turned out to be the last few moments of her life.

Patterson approaches this deeply emotional subject not as someone taking a position on abortion, but simply as a grief-stricken father who feels that women are entitled to know the real risks associated with chemical abortions. On both the opening home page and later in sharing Holly’s story, Patterson declares:

No woman should have to risk her life or her health because she lacks factual and accurate medical abortion information to make a well-informed decision when terminating an early pregnancy with Mifepristone and Misoprostol.

Patterson says that the website, set up in memory of his daughter, “is a way for women and families to learn about the risks of medical abortion and to be able to share their experience and story with others.”

Using official Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documents, the website lays out in detail the added risks that may come with “off-label” uses of the drugs. This refers to the adoption of regimens that deviate from the FDA- approved protocols by altered dosages and administration methods of the drugs – variations that are common in the U.S. and were employed in Holly Patterson’s case. It is information a woman is very unlikely to hear at the clinic.

A short video uses terms that pro-lifers may not like (“medical abortion,” “terminating an early pregnancy”), but does a good job of explaining how the drugs work and illustrating how the chemical abortion process may expose a woman to serious infection risks.

Pro-lifers may have heard some of this information before, but the website is worth visiting simply for the extensive medical detail and documentation.

Patterson says on the website that

“Medical abortion is promoted as safe and effective. The information she was able to obtain about medical abortion cost Holly her life. Holly was an intelligent young woman. She could have made a better choice if she had accurate facts about the mifepristone abortion pill to terminate pregnancy.”

Repeatedly, Patterson says that he wishes to insure that “Holly did not die in vain.” The website is one way Patterson means to honor his daughter’s memory.

“Holly felt it was important to share her time and help people in life. In her death, much has been learned from Holly’s and other women’s medical abortion experience. The information deserves to be shared.”

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