RU-486 Now Safe?Feminist researcher who opposed abortion pill in 1991 book still doesn’t think so — Part Two of Two


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

Editor’s note. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were few “pro-choice” voices raised in opposition to the spread of the abortifacient RU-486. The most prominent — Renate Klein, Janice Raymond, and Lynette Dumble—wrote a book published in 1991, “RU486: Misconception, Myths and Morals,” which has been recently updated with a lengthy, detailed new preface.

Here is the second part of Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon’s observations on that new preface. Click here to read the first part of the series.

RU486book9reAccounts of two deaths contradict industry spin

Renate Klein recounts the cases of two women who died after taking RU-486, Holly Patterson, the beautiful young teenager from the San Francisco area who died of an infection in 2003, and Manon Jones, an 18-year-old who bled to death in Britain in 2005. We will not go through all the details of these cases here, as we have reported on them previously. But these two tragedies serve to illustrate certain important points for Klein.

To Klein, the idea that a woman could simply take powerful medications, go home, and call the doctor if she started having problems was not just “nonsensical,” but dangerous. Klein notes an important difference between chemical and surgical methods.

If something goes wrong during the surgical abortion and a woman begins to hemorrhage, she is already there at the clinic and can immediately receive medical treatment. If she begins to hemorrhage at home, even if she recognizes it as such, she may be miles from any care [and maybe hundreds of miles if she gets her abortion pills via webcam].

Even if she does go to an emergency room, because the symptoms of an afebrile infection (one occurring without the usual fever) or a ruptured ectopic pregnancy are quite similar to the ordinary pain, cramping, and bleeding of a chemical abortion, even a doctor could miss them. Given that similarity, the doctor could examine her, prescribe some additional pain pills, and send her home, just like he did Holly Patterson, failing to treat her infection until it was too late.

A phone call to a hotline is not enough, and even a return visit may be insufficient in these cases. Holly Patterson went to the ER, but only got more pain meds. By the time she returned again to the hospital, it was too late. The outcome was tragic in Holly Patterson’s case, as these infections can be particularly fast growing and virulent.

And exactly how will the patient, or even the doctor, be able to distinguish a genuine hemorrhagic emergency from the gushing blood that accompanies many of your ordinary chemical abortions?

This was hardly a theoretical question when Manon Jones, a British teen, bled to death in 2005. Klein is aghast that medical authorities implied that it was Manon’s fault because she had not returned to the hospital soon enough. To the contrary, Klein points out that Jones returned the hospital twice, even being told on her second visit that the bleeding was normal.

“This example,” says Klein, “is a clear case as to why an RU 486/PG abortion can never be safe because no one knows how these two potent chemicals might react in particular women’s bodies.”

Unanticipated Side-Effects?

The tendency, intended or not, to downplay or minimize the risks is not just an affront to women’s dignity but a serious threat to their health. Klein notes a pattern here, that “symptoms of RU 486/PG abortion are talked down by abortion providers – ‘just a heavy period with a bit of pain.’”

Klein says the first-hand accounts of those women who have suffered serious complications show a disturbing pattern. The women say that they weren’t told the process could be incredibly painful, could last for hours, could involve vomiting and violent diarrhea, and that they could lose a lot of blood and bleed for weeks.

Klein shares another chemical abortion side effect that has not received a lot of attention in the popular press – debilitating fatigue and depression. Quoting from Norine Dworkin-McDaniel’s article “I was betrayed by a pill,” from the June 27, 2007 issue of Marie Claire, Klein lifts the section where Dworkin-McDaniel says “My body was in hormonal chaos – pregnancy hormones clashing with antipregnancy hormones clashing with stress hormones.”

Dworkin-McDaniel talked of “an utter lack of ability to do anything more strenuous that sleep or lie on the couch.” She added that “My brain felt so fuzzy English seemed like a second language, and I couldn’t work.”

Fatigue was followed by depression. “I sobbed constantly. I wouldn’t leave the house. I stopped showering.”

Dworkin-MCDaniel’s doctor prescribed anti-depressants. She didn’t feel like her “old self” for nine months.

Dworkin-McDaniel says that after she reported this to her gynecologist, he informed her that her experience was not uncommon. According to Dworkin-McDaniel, he told her that “I think it’s underreported, but probably one in three have dramatic side effects.”

Why aren’t women being told what a taxing ordeal these abortions could be for many of them? Klein reports one Planned Parenthood clinic saying, “Well, we don’t want to scare them.”

For all their talk about respecting the intelligence and autonomy of women, this is paternalism at its worst.

Concerns about Australia and the rest of the world

One reason Klein was prompted to come forward with an update was that in February of 2006, her own country, Australia, joined the ranks of nations approving RU-486, employing many of the same old kinds of arguments and the sort of flawed research that Klein originally found so problematic in 1991.

When it came to the roll out of chemical abortion, as people found elsewhere, promises did not line up with practice. A 2011 study comparing surgical and chemical abortions in Australia (2009-2010) found complication and failure rates were higher than expected for the chemical methods–1 in 200 hemorrhaging, about 1 in 20 being hospitalized, requiring a “second procedure” to complete the abortion, and a three times higher rate of sepsis than found in surgical.

An early proponent of chemical abortion in Australia, Caroline de Costa, who had originally cautioned that women undergoing these procedures needed to be close to a facility offering emergency care, began promoting use of the drug for women in rural areas, which might be 10-12 hours away in some areas of the outback.

As was the case in America, the Australian story also has a rather sketchy delivery and distribution history. A specially created nonprofit pharmaceutical company (MS Health) of worldwide abortion giant Marie Stopes International (MSI) received license to sell the pills.  Like the American producer, Danco, the only products are abortion pills (though MS Health sells both mifepristone and misoprostol).

As Klein was writing the preface this past summer, she expressed concern about a move among some Australian politicians supporting abortion to have the government subsidize the cost of the drugs, thereby creating a financial incentive for women to choose the chemical method.

Klein’s concerns were not limited to Australia, however. From early on, Klein and her co-authors understood that those developing the chemical abortion methods had set their sights on populations in the developing world. And now, she notes with alarm, her fears being borne out.

Not only is the RU-486/PG combination being pushed in the West, but prostaglandins like misoprostol are also being promoted worldwide as cheap, stand alone abortifacients (see our own article, covering much of the same material).

It is especially troubling to Klein that these are being pushed and promoted in poor countries where women, already suffering from ill health, have little access to emergency facilities.

Ignored Warnings

What must be frustrating for Klein is that so many of these problems are ones that she, Raymond, and Dumble warned about in the first edition of their book in 1991. Incredible pain, terrible side effects, heightened risks, the trauma involved in aborting and seeing one’s own child, the effects of the drugs on a woman’s other systems, deaths, efforts to expand dangerous chemical methods to the developing world —all have become a proven reality in the lives of far too many women.

Klein, of course, simply wants these chemical abortions replaced by surgical ones, which she considers safer, quicker, and less traumatic. But she does not think being a feminist and “pro-choice” requires that a woman endorse, promote, or endure a method that is, in her words, “unpredictable, unsafe, and often cruel.”

Obviously, those of us in the pro-life movement can’t help but recognize that for the unborn baby, any method of abortion is cruel and “unsafe.” But Klein shows us here how just how far the abortion establishment is willing to go in putting the lives and health of women at risk to promote their agenda.