TAMPA — Hours after John Andrew Welden tricked his pregnant girlfriend into taking an abortion pill, she started to experience severe cramps and bleeding.
By the time she went to the hospital the next day, her unborn baby had no heartbeat. Two days later, the embryo was surgically removed.
Welden admits he wanted to cause Remee Lee to miscarry his child. He has pleaded guilty to product tampering as part of a deal that allows him to avoid the mandatory life sentence he faced if convicted of a form of murder under the federal “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.”
His attorneys, though, deny that the single 200-microgram dose of Cytotec actually caused the death of the six-week-old embryo. And U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara has said the prosecution must establish Lee suffered harm before he will impose the prison sentence of 13 years and eight months called for in the plea agreement.
On Wednesday, two prosecution experts from the University of South Florida testified that it is highly likely the Cytotec caused the miscarriage. On Thursday, defense experts are scheduled to take the stand.
Pharmacology expert Daniel Buffington testified that the drug is considered safe to treat gastric ulcers but causes miscarriages early in pregnancy and also is used when a baby has reached term to induce labor.
Buffington said the drug, also known as Misoprostol, can significantly constrict the flow of blood to the embryo.
For women in early pregnancy, he said, “No exposure is safe,” unless an abortion is intended. Risk factors, he added, have been documented even at low doses.
Buffington said the drug “contributed to or directly resulted in the termination of (Lee’s) pregnancy.”
Defense lawyer Todd Foster questioned Buffington about studies, which he said established a much higher dose of the drug was required to terminate a pregnancy.
But Buffington stuck to his position, repeatedly testifying, “There is no safe dose.”
Foster asked what amount is “required to create demise” of the embryo.
“There is no defined lower limit that would be considered safe,” Buffington said.
Defense expert Rebecca Allen, who has studied the drug, is expected to testify today. She wrote in an affidavit that it is “impossible that one 200-microgram tablet of Misoprostol caused serious bodily harm to (Lee). At most, one 200-microgram tablet may cause slight nausea, diarrhea, transient fever/chills, or minor abdominal discomfort... It would be impossible with regard to causation, for any medical professional to definitely conclude that one 200-microgram tablet was the actual cause of any harm whatsoever.”
But prosecution OB-GYN expert Catherine Lynch testified Wednesday that the drug “did exactly what it was intended to do, and that resulted in the demise of the embryo.”
Much of the dispute centers on examination notes made by Welden’s father, Stephen Welden, an OB-GYN physician. The defendant took Lee to his father, who performed an ultrasound.
In the notes, Stephen Welden refers to a “threatened abortion.”
But Lynch testified that is the notation made whenever a patient experiences bleeding or cramping early in pregnancy, which Lee had. Lynch said the ultrasound and other blood test results showed the pregnancy was healthy and viable until she took the drug.
John Welden admitted telling Lee his father had found an infection and prescribed an antibiotic. Then he obtained the Cytotec and switched the label to make it look like the antibiotic and told Lee to take it.
Lynch said, given the medical workup results, Lee had only about a 7 percent chance of miscarrying before she took the drug.