Infections Kill 8 in Abortion Pill Mystery; Pro-Lifers Are Keeping Count

Last Updated Feb 25, 2010 7:55 PM EST

Eight women in the U.S. have died of serious, aggressive infections after using Mifeprex, the abortion pill formerly known as RU-486, in a growing mystery that may well fuel a pro-life campaign against the drug.

The number of deaths is small -- Mifeprex has been on the market since 2000 -- but remains a mystery, according to the FDA which updated its count yesterday. The drug is marketed by Danco Labs. In an amendment to question 18 on its Mifeprex page, the FDA said:

These women died from sepsis (serious infection involving the bloodstream). Seven cases were found to involve infection with bacteria known as Clostridium sordellii and one case involved infection with Clostridium perfringens. Sepsis is a known risk related to any type of abortion. The symptoms in all of these cases of serious infection were not the usual symptoms of sepsis. We do not know whether using Mifeprex and misoprostol caused these deaths. In all but one case, the misoprostol was used intravaginally.
Death from Clostridium sordellii infection is unpleasant and rapid. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain without fever -- followed by a fatal heart attack. The infections are also a risk in regular childbirth.

The new total (it was six until 2007) will likely be used by pro-life activists in their campaign against the drug. (They're keeping a running death count here.)

Sepsis deaths are also called rapid toxic shock syndrome. In the 1600s, the disease was called puerpral fever or childbed fever, and it claimed the lives of up to 25 percent of all women giving birth in hospitals until doctors learned to wash their hands between patients.