Counteracting the Abortion Pill: One Life at a Time

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

Editor’s note. Dr. O’Bannon was joined at a General Session at NRLC Convention 2021 by Ingrid Duran, NRL Director of State Legislation, and Matthew Harrison, a pioneer of the Abortion Pill Reversal process which has already saved over 2,000 babies. Dr. O’Bannon’s presentation included slides. 

In addition to his speech at a 2021 NRL Convention General Session, Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon also spoke with women involved in Pregnancy Resource Centers.
Photo Credit: Lisa Andrusko

Good afternoon!  I am here to give you the Statistical & Background Portion of our discussion. This is a good news/bad news story, and I’ve been tasked with giving you the background, the bad.

Are chemical [“medication”] abortions  Safe and Effective?

*Holly Patterson had just turned 18 and was working to earn money for college. The first time her father heard that she was pregnant and had taken the abortion pill was when he was called to the hospital and found her hooked up to a ventilator. She died later that day when a rare infection overwhelmed her body.

*Orianne Shevin was a 34 year old attorney, a mother of two. The same rare infection that killed Holly Patterson two years before took Shevin’s life in June of 2005, shortly after she had taken the same medication.

*Rebecca Tell Berg, a 16 year old Swedish teen, collapsed and bled to death in her boyfriend’s shower after receiving the abortion pill at her local hospital. 

*Manon Jones, another teenager from Britain who took the abortion pill, died on a gurney in a hospital hallway in Bristol, England, waiting for a transfusion.

*Brenda Vise, a pharmaceutical representative from Chattanooga, TN, died when an ectopic pregnancy missed by the abortion clinic ultrasound ruptured. Staff at the clinic thought she was just experiencing the normal cramps and bleeding that accompany a standard chemical abortion.

Those are just a few of the names of the women who died or suffered complications at the hands of this abortion pill that they tell us is “safe and effective.” 

“Adverse Events”

A 2018 document from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (or the FDA) tells that there have been at least 24 known deaths associated with use of the abortion pill. 

Also note that there were nearly 100 ectopic pregnancies like Brenda Vise’s.  RU-486, or mifepristone, doesn’t work in circumstances of ectopic pregnancy. 

And that document also tells that thousands of others have faced significant, potentially deadly “adverse events” or complications similar to the ones encountered here – infections, hemorrhages, rupturing ectopic pregnancies, and more.

As troubling as these statistics are, there is reason to believe they may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Chemical abortions are normally a multi-drug, multi-step process taking several days to complete.

In their first encounter, women are screened for potentially serious conditions or allergies, counseled about how to use the pills and risks associated with the procedure, and only then are they to be given the drugs. They are supposed to only the first drug, mifepristone, right away. 

This starts the abortion process, shutting down the baby’s life support system, depriving the unborn child of the essential nutrients needed to survive. 

The powerful cramps and sometimes torrential bleeding needed to force the child out of the womb don’t typically start until a couple of days later when the prostaglandin misoprostol – the second drug of the process — is taken. 

Whether she started that abortion back at the clinic or after she received those pills in the mail, either way this means that she is now days past and possibly miles away from any clinic when the abortion starts in earnest and the most severe reactions kick in.  She may have no interest in further contact with the folks who sold her the pills.

She could call and try to return to the clinic where they came from, where they may give her more pills to begin the cramping and bleeding all over again, or maybe they’ll offer to do a surgical abortion. Many women will simply decide to visit their own personal doctor or opt for the nearest ER, where she knows that they should be equipped to handle cases that might be beyond the clinic’s capabilities.  

Several abortion pill advocates have advised her that she need not tell the ER staff that she has taken the pill, that they cannot tell the difference between a miscarriage and a “medical abortion,” so she can keep this secret.

If so, information on any complications, or even of a patient’s death, may never be reported to manufacturer or to the FDA, giving a false impression of the drug’s safety.  New rules requiring only the reporting of patient deaths – or should I say, “known” patient deaths – make it even less likely that we have an accurate accounting of the drug’s actual safety profile.

It doesn’t help things that scientific literature typically avoids the notion of “cause,” preferring instead to use the language of “association” — that use of a given drug or product is “associated” with a certain number of deaths or injuries. 

Technically speaking, for example, what killed Holly Patterson was not the abortion pill, but the Clostridium sordellii bacteria that seems to have entered her system when she inserted the misoprostol into her vaginal canal to launch the final phase of her chemical abortion.  

Clearly, even if that doesn’t count as “causation” though, there was a reason for the sudden rash of these deadly infections specifically among chemical abortion patients and the deaths wouldn’t have occurred absent the initiation of the chemical abortion. They are very clearly connected – one doesn’t happen except for the other. This unusual notion of causality may provide a way for the manufacturer or distributor to avoid some liability, but it offers little protection to patients from this very real danger.

A growing death toll

Of course, read the promotional literature of the abortion industry and the abortion pill promoters and you won’t find the names of Holly Patterson, Orianne Shevin, Chanelle Bryant, Vivian Tran, Rebecca Tell Berg, Manon Jones, Brenda Vise, Nadine Walkowiak, or any of the others.  In fact, you’ll see very little about these deaths or injuries, even in the vaguest, most general, abstract terms.

What you will see on those websites and advertisements are confident, smiling faces, comforting language, and the claim that “more than four million have used these pills safely.”

Maybe it’s unnecessary to state the obvious, but those pills were obviously not “safe” for the 4 million babies who lost their lives.

And given what we know about what the chemical abortion experience is really like, perhaps it is more accurate to talk about the women who “survived” their chemical abortions rather than calling these “successful” or “safe” abortions.

Yet given the hype, it should surprise no one that even while the number of abortions has generally fallen by almost half the last thirty years, the trend line on these chemical abortions is steadily upward to the point that they now account for nearly 40% of all abortions.

Yes, the abortion pill has been “successful,” but for the abortion industry, not for women and certainly not for their unborn babies.

Ordinarily, Extraordinarily Difficult and Dangerous

Even when they “work,” these abortions are horrific, harrowing affairs.  

Women talk about gushing blood, passing lemon sized clots, bleeding for weeks, intense painful cramps unlike any they had ever experienced before, cramps continuing for hours, so painful the woman says she couldn’t move, enduring nonstop vomiting, nausea, headaches  

Again, this is for women for whom the abortion pills “worked,” for whom they were “successful,” those for whom these pills worked as planned, as designed.  

Gushing blood, paralyzing cramps, nonstop vomiting – I’m not sure that’s what anybody means by the word. “safe”

And this doesn’t even get into the psychological repercussions of a woman encountering her own child, having the memory of her child’s fists, her child’s eyes, her child’s tiny body swirling in the toilet bowl or the shower drain, haunting her memory, visiting her dreams for years to come.

Frequent “Failure”

The truth, of course, is that these pills often don’t work. For example, they aren’t going to work in situations of ectopic pregnancy, which is one reason why it’s so dangerous to take these without first having an ultrasound to see where the baby is located. 

Even if there isn’t an ectopic pregnancy, they’re only going to work 93% of the time and that’s only if women take both pills and use them before they hit their 10th week of pregnancy.

According to the official FDA label, “2-7% of Patients” “will need a surgical procedure because the pregnancy did not completely pass from the uterus or to stop bleeding”

This means, even at its maximal effectiveness, when “used as directed,” these pills are going to fail every 50th woman who walks through the clinic door. And the FDA is granting that maybe it’s not every 50th, but every 14th patient [7%] for whom the pills won’t work.

Moreover, “ effectiveness” falls off with gestational age, and we know that many in the abortion industry are prescribing these to women weeks past the 10 week deadline. The number and seriousness of complications increases with time as well.

Now this high “failure” rate does come with a somewhat of a silver lining.  If a woman takes the first pill, mifepristone, but not the second, misoprostol, her child may survive, and a boost of progesterone may be able to counteract the action of mifepristone. You’ll hear more about that in a minute.

But if the abortion fails and the woman is determined to go through with it, it means more pills, more pain, more bleeding, or maybe even a surgical abortion with all of its own added risks.

But what does the abortion industry care? They get their money and the outcome they’re after either way.

Regulated because found dangerous

Abortion pill advocates want people to believe that the government put controls on the distribution and prescription of mifepristone because it was bowing to pro-life pressure to make the abortion pill harder to get. But if we had our way and the ordinary medical, legal, and ethical standards had been followed we don’t think it ever would have been approved at all.

Remember that thing from the Hippocratic Oath about “Do no harm?” And that line about not prescribing any deadly drugs?  What about that commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill?”  And isn’t the “right to life” the first one mentioned in our founding documents?

No, the truth is that the FDA imposed significant safeguards on mifepristone because it had proven itself dangerous.  They saw the death of Nadine Walkowiak in France and they saw the near death of the woman in Iowa who participated in the American trials of the drug.  They received reports of multiple complications and high rates of failures among women who tried the pill under the heavily monitored conditions of the U.S. trial.. 

That’s why that even when the Clinton era FDA approved the abortion pill in September of 2000, it did so under a special provision of the drug law called “Subpart H,” allowing its distribution and use to be restricted.  

That’s why, once they saw the deaths of Holly Patterson, Brenda Vise, Manon Jones, and the others, when they received thousands of reports of hemorrhage, dangerous infections, ruptured ectopic pregnancies and the like, they sent warning letters to doctors and directors of E.R.s.  And they put a special “Black Box Warning” on the label telling doctors to watch for common signs of these chemical abortions gone wrong.

It’s why, even when President Obama’s FDA relaxed certain elements of the mifepristone protocol in 2016, it still kept the drug under its special REMS regs, or “Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy” regulations, to minimize these dangerous incidents and ensure that prescribers carefully monitored the health and safety of their patients.

Never Satisfied

Despite getting the FDA to approve this dangerous, deadly drug that cures no disease, saves no patient’s life,  the abortion industry continues to complain about each and every safety measure placed on the drugs, angling to make these pills easier to get and cheaper to use. 

Before approval, for instance, they fought against ultrasound requirements date the pregnancy and determine the baby’s location in the uterus, which, as we’ve seen, could help avoid risks of ruptures or impact effectiveness.  They rejected requirements that the prescriber have surgical training to treat complications or incomplete abortion if the process went awry or the abortion failed, which we’ve also seen happens frequently. 

Now it is only necessary that they claim that they can accurately estimate the baby’s age by whatever method they wanted, and can refer the patient to someone with surgical skills if those are needed.

They complained about dosages, wanting to use less of the more expensive mifepristone pills, more of the cheap misoprostol. They didn’t want women coming back to the clinic to be administered the misoprostol.  They chafed at the seven week gestational limit.

They got most of these elements changed in the new 2016 protocol. And they still complained.

They didn’t like the paperwork involved in ordering the pills and certifying that they understood how the pills worked and what the risks were. They wanted to be able to sell them at pharmacies or make them available online. They wanted to skip all the patient testing and examinations.

Turns out, they didn’t like having the women come to the clinic at all for the in person screening, physical examination, testing, or counseling. They tried to use the pandemic as an excuse to drop the FDA’s safety regulations and just let them interview patients online and ship their pills in the mail.

An Agenda Exposed

All these moves by the abortion industry have made their intentions clear.

It’s not making abortion safer. Their own studies show chemical abortions to be almost four times more likely to send a woman to the emergency room than a surgical abortions.

It’s making abortion easier, and more profitable. Not easier or more economical for women, obviously, but for the abortion industry. 

A chemical abortion, particularly if done at home, means less clinic space, less staff and abortionist time are required. More abortions can be done, in less time, with less clinic mess, and abortionists make more money.

Maybe the abortionist has a short five minute video chat with a woman over a computer monitor, but he doesn’t have to deal with the blood and mess of a surgical procedure, and doesn’t have to encounter the horror of her mutilated baby. At most, maybe the clinic staff takes a call in the middle of the night and sends the woman off to her local ER.  Somebody else’s problem.

Clinic safety regulations, checking the patient’s age on an ID, performing an ultrasound and letting the woman see her unborn baby, doing testing to see whether the woman is even pregnant, are all no longer an issue provided that she has a functioning credit card or PayPal account. 

With the telemedicine option, an abortionist can sell abortions to women hundreds of miles away and never have to worry about them showing up hemorrhaging on the clinic doorstep.

They never have to be in the same room as these women, maybe never even look them in the eye, and never have to clean up the blood and callously collect and cast away the corpses of these precious tiny human beings.

More than once, activists have pointed to these telemedical and Do-It-Yourself [DIY] chemical abortions as a way to keep the business humming if and when Roe v. Wade is overturned, a concept that got a test run during the pandemic.

These are clearly their intentions for mifepristone.  But we’re not just going to roll over and let them destroy the lives of these women, these mothers and their unborn children.

We believe that when women find out how difficult and dangerous these abortions really are …

  •   when they discover that there are ways to reverse these abortions … 
  •   when there are laws that hold abortionists accountable for the risks these abortions pose…
  •   when they are convinced that there are life-affirming options that are better for both them and their babies… 

We believe women will choose LIFE for themselves and their babies!