Mifepristone and misoprostol, a set of abortion drugs, are intended to end a life. In very rare cases, they end two.
A 31-year-old U.K. woman was one of the adult casualties in 2010. This July the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology described how the woman developed an infection and died following a medication abortion. Monty Patterson, who tracks such deaths on the website Abortion Pill Risks and wrote about the case on Thursday, said it had not been previously reported in news media.
According to Abortion Pill Risks, 22 women have died since 2001 from complications following RU-486 abortions, including hemorrhaging, toxic shock, and the rupture of ectopic pregnancies.
The U.K. woman took the first abortion drug in the RU-486 regimen, mifepristone, orally at an abortion center, according to Patterson’s report. At home two days later, she took two doses of misoprostol, which initiates contractions to expel the baby.
One month afterward, she arrived at a hospital with vaginal bleeding and abdominal pain. In less than 24 hours, she began complaining of leg cramps. Soon her thighs began to swell and bruise, and she became drowsy and confused: She was suffering from sepsis, a state of blood poisoning caused by microorganisms. Within 28 hours of arriving at the hospital, she died.
Doctors later determined she had suffered from an infection of Clostridium septicum, bacteria that can cause gas gangrene and affected wounded soldiers in World Wars I and II. The bacteria likely entered through the cervix, dilated by the drug, and infected the site on the uterus where the baby had been attached.
“I think in this day and age, very few women actually expect to die when they decide to have a baby; and fewer still when they decide for a termination of pregnancy,” said Dr. Cheen Leen Khoo, the lead author of the case report, in an email to Patterson.
Twelve of the women who have died following medication abortions died from various bacterial infections. The U.K. woman is the first reported to have died from Clostridium septicum. Most of the deaths occurred after the women took misoprostol vaginally, a method of administration often practiced in the United States and elsewhere. The FDA has only approved the drug for oral administration when used for abortions, but not all abortion providers follow the agency’s guidelines.
Patterson’s daughter Holly died in 2003 after developing an infection following a medication abortion. She was just 18.
Earlier this year WORLD reported on a new treatment that can reverse the effects of a medication abortion if a woman changes her mind after taking the first pill.