Eight years ago, mifepristone, "the abortion pill," claimed the life of Holly Patterson, an 18-year-old who received the drug from Planned Parenthood and used it to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
She died seven days after taking the drug that is also known as RU-486 and 15 minutes before a scheduled follow-up appointment.
Holly's father, Monty Patterson, did not learn of her pregnancy until a doctor at the hospital told him just moments before her death.
"I felt like I had been left in the dark," he said. "I didn't even know what the abortion pill was. I couldn't believe Holly had gotten pregnant and had gone to get an abortion with her boyfriend. . . . I was mainly shocked."
Patterson later discovered that Holly's death was the first reported case in the United States of a Clostridium sordellii toxic shock infection after medical abortion. Medical abortion is a non-surgical approach to abortion, and Clostridium sordellii toxic shock infection is one of the health risks to the procedure, the one that Holly likely did not know about.
"There were no warnings on the label," Patterson explained. "No one knew about Clostridium sordellii as a fatal bacterial toxic shock infection." He later discovered that some people knew but weren't telling: In 2001, a woman died during test trials for the drug but this risk never translated into an official box-label warning in the United States until after Holly's death and the death of two other women.
That's because Patterson insisted on having Holly's tissue samples tested for Clostridium sordellii. He also pushed for the families of other victims to do the same. Finally, one year after Holly's death, and after hours pressuring the Food and Drug Administration, Patterson finally saw a black box warning on the drug's label for the infection.
Eight years later, Patterson hasn't stopped. He's spent countless hours researching the health risks of mifepristone, and Wednesday, the 11th anniversary of the drug's approval, he launched a website (abortionpillrisks.org) designed to provide more holistic information and awareness about the health risks associated with the pill.
"The website isn't about the abortion debate," Patterson cautioned, stressing that he believes that women should have a "choice for what they believe is in their best interest." But he added, "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."
Mifepristone is designed to terminate pregnancy by catalyzing detachment of the embroyo from the lining of the uterus. Patients use the drug in conjunction with misoprostol, another drug that catalyzes dilation of the cervix and contractions in order to expel the fetus. According to Patterson's website, mifepristone accounted for 17 percent of all non-hospital abortions in 2008.
Although experts laud the drug as a "safe and effective" alternative to surgical abortion, Patterson knows otherwise. He's hoping his research and website will help women avoid what could possibly be a fatal decision.