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Saturday, Sep 20, 2014
Crime & Courts

Defense experts say abortion pill didn’t cause abortion

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TAMPA — Did the pill John Andrew Welden tricked his girlfriend into taking end her pregnancy?

Federal prosecutors and prosecution experts say yes: The drug Cytotec, also known as Misoprostol, is a potent abortion-causing drug; the girlfriend, Reme Lee, had an exam the day before she took the pill and her pregnancy was healthy. Hours after she took the pill, she started experiencing painful cramps and heavy bleeding. The next day, she went to the hospital and the six-week embryo she was carrying had no heartbeat.

But defense experts, including some of the leading people in the field, testified Thursday that the sequence of events doesn’t necessarily mean what the prosecution says.

The single, 200-microgram dose of the drug is not likely to end a pregnancy, they said.

“I’m sure it can happen sometimes, but it’s not likely to happen,” said Beverly Winikoff, who is a leading researcher about the drug in pregnancy. “Any dose can possibly cause a miscarriage.

Winikoff said it’s not possible to say what, exactly, caused Lee to lose her baby. “I’m agnostic,” she said. “I cannot say that this was due to any particular thing...And if anybody does, I think they’re outside the bounds of evidence.”

Prosecution OB-GYN expert Catherine Lynch, from the University of South Florida, testified Wednesday that the drug “did exactly what it was intended to do, and that resulted in the demise of the embryo.”

But Winikoff said it’s not possible to say whether the drug caused the miscarriage or if happened because of some other problem, such as a chromosomal defect in the embryo. “You have two possibilities, neither of which is really strong,” she said, “and if you want to say which did it, you can’t. The law is asking a question that medicine can’t answer.”

Welden has admitted he gave Lee the pill with the intent of causing an abortion. He has pleaded guilty to product tampering, avoiding the mandatory life sentence he faced if convicted of a form of murder under the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.”

Welden said he forged a prescription from his father, an OB-GYN doctor, obtained the drug and switched the label to make it look like an antibiotic. He then gave the pill to Lee, telling her his father said she had an infection.

The defense and prosecution both recommended a sentence of 13 years and eight months in prison as part of the deal. But U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara said he is required to make his own, independent determination of where the case falls in the federal sentencing guidelines; to do that, he needs to know how just much Lee was injured by Welden.

The judge is scheduled to hear arguments Friday and then make a ruling about the sentencing guidelines. He’s expected to schedule Welden’s sentencing hearing for a later date.

Defense and prosecution experts spent Wednesday and Thursday on the witness stand sparring over the effects of the drug and what is known and not known.

As the testimony descended into arcane disputes over various academic research studies, Lazzara became exasperated, repeatedly trying to direct witnesses to the central question.

Both Winikoff and another defense expert, Rebecca Allen, wrote in affidavits that before Lee took the pill, she “was in a stage of threatened abortion or miscarriage.” All the witnesses agreed that “threatened abortion” in medical terms merely refers to a pregnant woman who has had some bleeding, and does not mean a miscarriage is imminent.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

813-259-7837

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