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Legal, but not safe

National | ABORTION: Teen's death renews old questions about RU-486 abortion drug

Issue: "California's new governor," Oct. 4, 2003

Cemetery workers on Sept. 24 lowered a casket into the earth at Memory Gardens in San Francisco, Calif. At graveside, family and friends mourned Holly Marie Patterson, 18, who died Sept. 17 after taking the abortion medication RU-486.

Miss Patterson, who graduated from high school last year and worked at Macy's, was seven weeks pregnant when she visited Planned Parenthood of Haywood on Sept. 10 to end her pregnancy. She and her boyfriend "thought they were doing the right thing for themselves at the time," Miss Patterson's friend, Helen Wilson, told the East Bay daily The Argus. "They researched it on the Internet. They were told no one in the country had died of this. But we later found out that's not true."

Two women have died in the United States after taking RU-486, also called mifepristone, since the FDA approved the drug two years ago. Monty Patterson, who said his daughter was "like an angel" to him, is seeking answers about how the drug may have contributed to her death.

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"The medical community treats this as a simple pill you take, as if you're getting rid of a headache," Mr. Patterson told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The procedure, the follow-ups, it's all too lackadaisical. The girl gets a pill. Then she's sent home to do the rest on her own. There are just too many things that can go wrong.

"I don't want to see another young, vibrant girl die. Holly and her boyfriend made this decision on their own, and it was a fatal one. I feel so sad, so numb. Parents need to talk to their children, and children need to talk to their parents. I don't want to say I'm mad; I just think things should be different. We should not have lost Holly, and we did."

Several groups, including the 15,000-member Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA), last fall filed a petition with the FDA to recall RU-486 pending further tests. One basis for the request: FDA internal memos show that the agency, possibly under pressure from pro-abortion politicians, relaxed rules designed to safeguard women against known RU-486 risks such as life-threatening blood loss, undetected tubal pregnancies, and incomplete abortions.

Holly Patterson's father said doctors told him that the latter killed his daughter. On Sept. 13, after her Planned Parenthood visit three days earlier, Miss Patterson began taking mifepristone. On Sept. 14, when she complained of severe cramping, her boyfriend rushed her to ValleyCare hospital, where she was given painkillers and sent home. For three more days, Miss Patterson suffered profound bleeding and acute pain. Admitted to a hospital on Sept. 17, she died hours later. Attending physicians told Mr. Patterson his daughter died of septic shock resulting from a massive bacterial infection caused by fragments of the unborn child left inside her womb.

The Alameda County Coroner's office said it will issue an official cause of death in a couple of weeks. In the interim, pro-abortion groups are putting distance between the teen's death and RU-486. Despite what attending doctors told her father about why Miss Patterson died, Planned Parenthood of Haywood issued a statement saying, "The cause of death is unknown at this time." National Abortion Federation chair Eric Schaff told the Associated Press that aspirin causes more deaths than RU-486.

CMDA associate executive director Gene Rudd said Mr. Schaff's comment was "not only callous, but has no scientific validity" when considerations such as the reasons for and frequency of aspirin usage, as well-known risks, are taken into account. In addition, he noted that "from one perspective, RU-486 is 100 percent fatal for one of the patients involved. Now it appears to have an unacceptable fatality risk for the mother as well."

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