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Pro-choice woman describes RU-486 abortion ordeal

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IMG_1881 pillRU-486, the abortion pill, is offered to women who are less than nine weeks pregnant. When it first became available in the United States, pro-choice activists rejoiced. They believed that it would make abortion more readily available to women.

Abortion providers say that RU-486 is safe and effective. According to abortion provider Dr. David Grimes:

I just don’t see any downsides. For those women who don’t like the invasiveness of surgery, it gives them a very important option.

In an article in Marie Claire titled “Betrayed by a Pill,” a pro-choice woman named Norine Dworkin-McDaniel gives another perspective when she describes her RU-486 abortion.

She starts out by talking about how happy she was when RU-486 became an option for women.

From the moment it was approved in 2000, I believed in the abortion pill. Finally! Abortion would finally become what it always should have been: a private medical matter between a woman and her doctor. It held the promise of swift, at home termination. There would be no more gauntlets of protesters at clinics, because who would know which physicians were dispensing the pills? Even better, the pill would keep abortion accessible at a time when fewer gynecologists were willing to perform them out of fear of attacks.

Dworkin-McDaniel eventually faced an unplanned pregnancy. According to her, when she became pregnant, she was using cocaine and would “work all day, and party, party, party all night.”

She worried that her drug use would cause medical problems for the baby:

No matter what I did from this point on, there would always be a chance that the baby would have problems – maybe physical ones, maybe psychological issues. I wasn’t willing to roll the dice with another life.

So Dworkin-McDaniel decided to end that life instead.

She describes how she decided not to have a surgical abortion:

There was the surgical option of course. I’d had one in college (so you think I would’ve learned this lesson already) and I dreaded the needle that would be used to numb my cervix.

The abortion would be done by RU-486 (mifepristone), which would kill the baby. Then a second drug (misoprostol) would cause her to expel the embryo and placenta.

She says:

The Mifeprex literature described some cramping and bleeding, “similar to or greater than a normal, heavy period.” This sounded far more appealing than surgical abortion. A few pills, a couple of cramps, and it would all be over. We could move on with our lives.

But it didn’t work out as she had planned.

She took the mispristone and then, two days later, prepared to administer the misoprostol:

Clinic staffers had directed me to insert the tablets into my vagina in the morning so I’d have the day to recover. I envisioned recuperating on the couch with some uncomfortable but bearable cramps and soothing myself with bad daytime TV.

I never made it to the couch.

She describes in detail what happened:

Nothing – not the drug literature, the clinic doctor, not even my own gyno – had prepared me for the searing, gripping, squeezing pain that ripped through my belly 30 minutes later. I couldn’t even form words when Stewart [her boyfriend] called to check on me. It was all I could do to gasp, “Come home! Now!” For 90 minutes, I was disoriented, nauseated, and, between crushing waves of contractions, that I imagine were close to what labor feels like, racing from the bed to the bathroom with diarrhea.

Then, just as quickly, it was over. The next night, I started bleeding. I bled for 14 days. A follow-up ultrasound confirmed that I’d aborted. And that’s when the problems really began.

I had been prepared for the possibility that the pill wouldn’t work and I’d still need a surgical abortion – that happens in about 5 to 8 percent of cases. I also knew that I might bleed so heavily I’d need surgery to stop it… [But] what blindsided me, apart from being battered by the mifepristone, with a huge, cystic boils that soon covered my neck, shoulders, and back. I was also overcome by fatigue – an utter lack of ability to do anything more strenuous than sleep or lie on the couch. My brain felt so fuzzy – English seemed like a 2nd language, and I couldn’t work. On top of all that came depression; I sobbed constantly. I wouldn’t leave the house. I stopped showering.

It was only when I described my symptoms to my gynecologist that I discovered my experience wasn’t all that unusual. (The Mifeprex literature didn’t even mention it.) “I think it’s underreported, but probably one in 3 women have dramatic side effects,” he told me. My body was in total chaos – pregnancy hormones clashing with anti-pregnancy hormones clashing with stress hormones. “I’ve seen a lot of women go through it – I don’t want to call it postpartum, but post event melancholy that’s more dramatic than people want to admit.” He prescribed antidepressants. “One day, you’ll feel just like your old self.” It took 9 months.

Dworkin-McDaniel describes going back to the clinic and talking to one of the clinic workers:

“We could have told you it wasn’t going to be easy,” a clinic staffer noted when I rattled off my complaints during my follow-up.

Why didn’t she speak up sooner?”

Dworkin-McDaniel’s story is similar to that of Abby Johnson. Johnson was the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic when she had an RU-486 abortion. She too was unprepared for the ordeal. You can read her story here.

Johnson describes the agonizing pain and heavy bleeding she experienced. At one point she says:

I knew I had to get up and wash the blood off of me. I stood up slowly and straightened out my body. As soon as I was completely upright, I felt a pain worse than any other I had experienced. I began to sweat again and felt faint. I grabbed on to the side of the shower wall to steady myself. Then I felt a release…and a splash in the water that was draining beneath me. A blood clot the size of a lemon had fallen into my bath water. Was that my baby? I knew this huge clot was not going to go down the drain, so I reached down to pick it up. I was able to grasp the large clot with both hands and move it to the toilet. I stood in the warm shower for a few minutes…feeling a little relief from the cramping. Then came the excruciating pain again. I jumped out of the shower and sat on the toilet. Another lemon sized blood clot. Then another. And another. I thought I was dying. This couldn’t be normal. Planned Parenthood didn’t ever tell me this could happen. This must be atypical. I decided that I would call them in the morning…if I didn’t die before then. It was around midnight and I had been in the bathroom for a good 12 hours. I knew I couldn’t leave yet. I didn’t want to lay in the bed…the bleeding was too heavy. And the clots were still coming; not as often, but they were still coming. So, I decided to sleep on the bathroom floor that night…right by the toilet. The cold floor felt good on my face. I was physically depleted, but I could not sleep.

In the morning, she called the clinic:

The next morning, I called Planned Parenthood as soon as they opened and asked to speak to the nurse. I was told she would call me back soon. She did. I told her about my previous day. She told me, “That is not abnormal.” WHAT?? She could not be serious. All of the bleeding, the clotting, the pain…that was NORMAL??? “Yes,” she said. “Use heating pads, soak in a warm tub, and take Ibuprofen.” I was angry. How could they not tell me the side effects? I felt betrayed.

She goes on to say:

At a management meeting, I voiced my concerns. Why weren’t we talking about the risks? Why hadn’t anyone told me? “Well, we don’t want to scare them,” my supervisor said. “Oh, like they are scared when they think they are dying from the amount of blood they are losing because we choose not to tell them that is supposedly normal,” I responded. That didn’t go over too well. That was their answer? They didn’t want women to be scared?? The night of my medication abortion, lying on the cold bathroom floor, I had never been so scared.

It’s true that not every woman who uses RU-486 has such a terrible experience. But these bad experiences are more common than many abortion providers would have us believe. Abortion clinics present RU-486 as an easy option. Often, it is anything but.

Source: Norine Dworkin-McDaniel “BETRAYED BY A PILL” Marie Claire (US), Jul2007, Vol. 14 7, p184-186

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