Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Teen abortion takes a fatal turn

A pregnant 18-year-old teenager from Livermoore, Calif., died of septic shock a week after taking the abortion pill RU-486.

Holly Patterson interrupted her daily routine in San Francisco suburbia Sept. 10 to visit the nearby Planned Parenthood Hayward Clinic. After disclosing her pregnancy status, she was given the first three tablets of the abortion pill RU-486.

Holly returned to her home and over the next few days proceeded to take the additional two pills, necessary for inducing medical abortion.


During the following week, Holly experienced some bleeding and nausea, making a trip to the emergency room necessary. She was medicated with painkillers and told to go home that same day.

Holly Patterson died Sept. 17 in the Valley Care Medical Center’s emergency room after returning there for the increased severity of her symptoms.

The possible connection of RU-486 to her death remains inconclusive, pending on further investigation and autopsy results.

Three years and 11 days before Holly Patterson’s death, the drug Mifepristone, or RU-486, became the first Food and Drug Administration approved drug used for the sole purpose of abortion.

It is ingested in two separate installments, which soften the cervix and trigger contractions of the uterus in order to allow the passing of its contents. The drug cannot be used if the patient has certain blood, kidney and heart disorders, nor in conjunction with alcohol or aspirin. A percentage of women experience bleeding, nausea and cramping for several days after taking the drug.

“Surgical abortion carries the risk of mechanical injuries, and medical abortion [via RU-486] carries the risk of bleeding problems,” said Dr. Dennis Christensen, medical director of the Madison Abortion Clinic. “[More severe] side effects from medical abortion are like a white elephant: they are even more uncommon.”

Christensen also stated that life-threatening complications are, in fact, ten times more likely to occur within a pregnancy term than an abortion.

Dr. Scott J. Spear Director of Clinical Services at the University of Wisconsin’s University Health Services, asserts that RU-486 can be used safely within the first seven weeks of the pregnancy. It had been used in Europe for years before its approval in the states and over 200,000 U.S. women have taken it since.

Out of that number, two cases of death have been ruled as unrelated to RU-486. At the same time, Spear mentioned certain risks were involved, for the abortion pill might miss pregnancies developing outside the uterus. Also, as in Holly Patterson’s case, an infection from incomplete expulsion of the fetus could occur.

“It is too early to place the blame on anyone because all the data has not come in yet,” Spear said.

The data that has come in, however, points to the fact that when Holly first visited the emergency room due to her worrisome symptoms, she failed to notify their staff that she had used the abortion pill.

“Not only was Holly’s father unaware of her taking RU-486, but she did not inform the emergency room staff either,” said Lisa Boyce, vice president of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Wisconsin. “When medical personnel is not given the full picture, proper medical treatment cannot be administered.”

Boyce attributes this lack of communication due to the culture of shame created around abortion. She said that not a lot of physicians discuss abortion as an option to pregnant patients facing a crisis.

Amy Young, a UW junior, has never heard of any of the possible risks associated with RU-486. She does not believe most of her peers have either, due to the exclusion of abortion information from many high school’s curriculums.

Young believes it should be kept that way.

“Learning about abortion might encourage kids to be careless, as it would give them an option to fall back on. Prevention should be emphasized instead,” she added.

UW junior Amanda Zellmer suggests that a lot more research is needed before deciding to have an abortion. Zellmer was unfamiliar with RU-486’s side effects, as her health class had never offered such information.

“If high schools begin teaching abortion topics, students might start using abortion as birth control; at the same time, a lack of information might lead students to engage in riskier and illegal abortion activities,” Zellmer said.

Boyce believes that as high school classes “advocate methods of birth control, [they] should also include facts about abortion alternatives, their safety records, and risks associated to them so women can be trusted to make the right decision based on the right information.”

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