Friday, August 14, 2009

1994: "Natural" abortion leaves young woman dead

"Having control over her own body and her own reproductive cycle is something she desired." -- friend who recommended fatal concoction

Kris Humphrey placed a high value on "self-determination" and doing things "naturally." These values led her to choose the herbal abortion that ended her life on August 14, 1994.

Kris had undergone a clinic abortion previously, but hadn't liked the experience. According to a friend, she found the procedure painful and the staff indifferent. Kris, said the friend, thought the staff at Planned Parenthood "treated her like she was doing something wrong, something she should be ashamed of" for choosing abortion.

Her stepbrother's death two years earlier due to an allergic reaction to a painkiller also led her to distrust modern medicine, said Kris's family.

Kris used herbal remedies for minor ailments, so she already had ideas about where to go for information on an herbal abortion. She consulted friends. One of Kris's friends said she'd done more than one self-induced abortion and recommended an abortion technique from Wise Woman Herbal, by Susun Weed. The method relied on a tea of pennyroyal extract and black cohosh root, both readily available in health-food stores. Both were well known as herbal abortifacients. In fact, an album by the Yeastie Girlz included a pennyroyal abortion recipe in the liner notes.

On August 5, Kris started the abortion regimen.

Over the approximately 10 days Kris was taking the tea, she went about her buisness, socializing with friends and family. Kris experienced abdominal pain and cramping, which she took as signs that the abortion was going as planned. Neither Kris nor her friend who recommended the tea thought anything was wrong at first.

The only person who was concerned was her mother, Embee. The two attended a movie together on August 7, and Kris told her mother about the pregnancy and about her herbalist plans. Embee, who'd suffered through an ectopic pregnancy herself, saw something familiar in the way Kris was holding her side from pain. She asked Kris if she was sure that the pregnancy was normal, not ectopic, but her daughter evaded the question.

Instead, Kris told her mother that the abortion should be complete on the 9th, and that she'd call then. But Kris continued to experience problems and continued to take the abortion concoction.

By Friday, August 12, Kris had given up on her herbal abortion plan. Embee and a friend offered to pay for her to have the abortion done at Planned Parenthood on the 13th. But when one of Kris's many housemates came home at 7:30 on Friday evening, she found Kris pale and feverish, and learned that she'd been vomiting. She continued to suffer chills, cramps, and vomiting for the next six hours.

Her condition continued to deteriorate. She passed out at around 11 p.m. Her friends continued to try to care for her, placing her in a cold bath at about 2 a.m Saturday to try to address her feverish sweating. But Kris just went into a seizure, so her friends carried her to the kitchen. One of them noticed that she wasn't breathing and started screaming. One friend called 911 while another attempted to perform CPR on the kitchen floor.

The paramedics arrived at 2:27 a.m and found Kris pulseless. They managed to resuscitate her enroute to the hospital, where emergency room staff put her on a ventilator and tried to stabilize her.

Her friends told staff about the abortion, and even brought the bottles of pennyroyal and black cohosh. The staff had no idea what effects the herbs might be having on Kris, and called poison control.

Kris was in shock and suffering from disseminated intravascular coagulopathy. "She was bleeding from everywhere," said a doctor who treated her. "She was even bleeding from all the places she was pierced--her nose, her mouth, her brow, her labia. Everywhere."

Doctors suspected an ectopic pregnancy, but feared doing exploratory surgery because Kris's condition was so fragile. While they were just done with a CAT scan at around 9:00 Saturday morning, Kris went into cardiac arrest. Staff used a defibrillator several times in addition to multiple IV lines to revive her. After half an hour, her heart finally started beating again. But despite all the IV fluids, she still had no blood pressure.

In desperation, the doctors proceeded with surgery, finding an unruptured right tubal pregnancy that was bleeding from the end of the fallopian tube. The doctors removed the pregnancy and "significant quantity of old blood which was malodorous."

Even though the tube hadn't ruptured, it appeared that the effect of the pennyroyal on Kris's liver had caused the clotting problems that had led to her excessive internal bleeding.

After surgery, Kris showed no signs of responsiveness. She was declared brain dead on Sunday. Friends and family gathered at the hospital and life support was turned off. Half an hour later, at 4:51 p.m., Kris was declared dead.

Testing on samples of Kris' liver showed that her liver showed signs of damage associated with one of the substances, pulegone, contained in pennyroyal. Not enough is known of the effects of pulegone on the liver to say for sure what effect the damage had on Kris or what role it played in her death.

Kris' divorced parents are united after her death in a lawsuit filed against the pennyroyal manufacturer and the store where Kris likely bought the herbs. The store is called, in a bitter ironic twist, "Bread of Life." They want to see pennyroyal and other herbal remedies labeled with warnings about their possible negative effects.

Kris's friends, on the other hand, blame the health clinic where Kris had her positive pregnancy test. They say that the clinic should have done an ultrasound to check the location of the embryo. But since Kris had no unusual symptoms at the time, and had been given a referral to Planned Parenthood, there really was no reason for the clinic to do such an examination.

Nobody, it seems, is blaming the culture that makes abortion normative and assures young women that it's perfectly safe.


Diggory said...

If Kris was going through such agony, you can only imagine what the baby was going through... Being slowly and agonizingly poisoned by these "natural" herbs for over a week makes partial-birth abortion sound humane. If she had done that to a baby outside the womb, society would be united in proclaiming she deserved what she got. But because the baby wasn't cute enough yet to be called human, we can safely blame it on the manufacturer.

Lauren said...

Diggory, as the pregnancy was ectopic Kris would have needed to get an abortion anyway. Ectopic pregnancies need to be terminated or else the fallopian tubes explode. The real tragedy here is the lack of proper education there is available about herbs. Pennyroyal extract should never be ingested as it is too potent. The Pennyroyal substance usually used in tea is much milder. And also, abortion facilitating herbs do not "poison" the embryo (the embryo, not fetus as these methods rarely work after the 1 month marker) the merly stimulate uterine contractions and dilation of the cervix.