Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Double Homicide

Science News reviews a couple New England Journal of Medicine articles on maternal deaths from the abortion pill RU-486.1 In the five years of the pill's availability, four otherwise healthy women died of toxic shock after being "treated." All four developed vaginal infections of a microbe called Clostridium sordellii. Why?

Ralph P. Miech, a physician at Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, R.I., suspects that quick-responding immune cells typically fend off C. sordellii infections. Mifepristone may sabotage this defense in certain women. How that occurs, he acknowledges, "is unknown."

When you're dealing with a state as intimate to a woman's being as pregnancy, it seems unsurprising that ending it has radical repercussions on the woman herself. The further commentary is illuminating.

If there is a connection between the treatment and the fatalities, says Michael F. Greene, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, these data suggest a risk of about 1 death per 100,000 patients getting mifepristone. That's about 10 times the risk of death for a surgical abortion during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy, when mifepristone is used, Greene comments in NEJM.

If the risk of fatality is ten times that of surgical abortion, that's rather remarkable for a "treatment" that our betters have told us is completely safe,... pay no attention,... move along.

Even more illuminating is the incidence relative to death among women at large (not just RU-486 "patients"); the researchers found only 9 deaths from the same microbe-induced toxic shock unconnected with the abortion pill in the 25 years between 1977 and 2002. In what population were these deaths? Worldwide or only the U.S.? Science News doesn't say. But even if only the U.S. that would make the result 9 deaths from over 130 million women in 25 years. If the incidence of death linked to RU-486 were merely normal, we would expect 113 deaths in five years or 565 in 25 years. That makes deaths by toxic shock over 141 times more likely with RU-486 than without.2

Of course, these numbers need to be put in perspective with other causes of death (getting run over by a car, dying in a plane crash,...). But you still gotta wonder what our betters mean by "safe."


1. The mortality rate among the children targeted by this "medicine" is undoubtedly close to 100%.

2. The article says the risk from surgical abortion is ten times less than for RU-486. So it must be that having a surgical abortion directly increases one's risk of dying 14 times. That's not including all the indirect ways that abortion results in the death of the abortive mother (depression, suicide, illness, etc.). See Elliot Institute, press release, "Abortion Nearly Four Times Deadlier Than Childbirth," June 2000.

Nathan Seppa, "Rare but Fatal Outcome: Four deaths may trace to abortion pill" Science News 168:23 (December 3, 2005), 358, 360. [online article for subscribers only; References and Sources]

Michael F. Greene, "Fatal Infections Associated with Mifepristone-Induced Abortion" New England Journal of Medicine 353:22 (December 1, 2005), 2317-2318.

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