Wednesday, May 23, 2018
News Roundup

Abortion pill case: 'All I wanted was the child,' woman told judge

TAMPA — The day before Remee Jo Lee learned her unborn child had died, she later told a judge, her boyfriend, John Andrew Welden, came over to care for her.

Lee, 26, was experiencing cramps and bleeding. She was worried something was wrong with her pregnancy, in its seventh week. Welden, 28, brought her soup and told her everything was fine as long as she didn't lose too much blood, she told the judge.

Then Welden asked about the pills he gave her, the antibiotics he said she needed for an infection. He wanted them back, according to Lee. She wouldn't give them up.

"I had them stowed away," Lee told Hillsborough County Civil Judge Lawrence Lefler on April 9. "I ended up going to the hospital the next day. … I was bleeding heavily, my vision was going out. … I went to the emergency room, and there they told me that the baby was not going to make it."

Lee's pregnancy ended, federal prosecutors say, because she had unwittingly taken Cytotec, stomach-ulcer medicine that can be used for an abortion. Welden, the son of a gynecologist, had doctored the pill bottle label to say it was the antibiotic Amoxicillin, according to prosecutors. They charged Welden, of Lutz, with murder and product tampering Wednesday. He faces a potential life sentence if convicted.

Welden's attorney and family have not returned requests for comment this week. Lee has gone publicly silent since meeting with the FBI Thursday. Before her story became national news, though, Lee went to Hillsborough Circuit Court last month to get a restraining order. She had gone to law enforcement and feared Welden would kill her, she said. In 16 minutes of recorded testimony on April 9, with Welden in the courtroom, Lee told the judge what Welden did to her, the devastation it caused, and the conflicted emotions she has for him.

On March 28, Lee had a sonogram, she said. Welden's father — Dr. Stephen Welden, also of Lutz — was her gynecologist. John Welden brought her the pills a day after the sonogram, Lee said. His father said she had an infection, Lee recalled the younger Welden saying. Dr. Stephen Welden has not been accused of a crime.

Welden called later, before she went to work, to make sure she took the pills. That night, the cramps and bleeding started. Lee left her shift at Chipotle early.

"I just knew there was something wrong after I ate the medicine," she said.

On March 31, Lee went to Tampa General Hospital, she said. Doctors told her the heartbeat had stopped. She'd have to return two days later for dilation and curettage, a procedure to remove the embryo.

Welden confessed on the phone that night, Lee said. He had never wanted her to have the child. The next day, she filed for an injunction.

Welden was at the hearing, along with his attorney, David Weisbrod, who asked Lee if she'd ever had an abortion.

"I don't see how that pertains to this matter," she said. "My past has nothing to do with what John Welden did to me."

Judge Lefler agreed that a prior abortion was irrelevant.

Weisbrod said Lee had never complained to law enforcement before about Welden. He cited text messages she sent him after her pregnancy ended. In one, she quoted Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk.

"When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment. He needs help," the attorney said. "You sent that to Mr. Welden on the night of April 1, early into the morning of April 2, right?"

"I shouldn't have done that," Lee said.

"You sent him another text after that indicating that you missed him, right? You sent him a text that says, 'It sucks. I really miss you even though I shouldn't.' And that was after you had signed these papers, correct?" Weisbrod said.

"Was it after I signed the papers? Perhaps it was," Lee said. "This has been a terrible, harrowing experience. And I do miss him, and I do love him. I don't know how I still feel all these things. This was not what I wanted, none of this is what I wanted. All I wanted was the child. I never thought he'd be capable to do something like this to me."

Welden did not speak during the hearing. Lefler ultimately denied Lee's request for an injunction, citing her lack of evidence. The pills were still undergoing testing. He told Lee to refile when she had more evidence.

Before the hearing ended, Lefler asked Lee if there was anything else she wanted to say. She had kept her emotions in check until then. As she gave a long answer, her voice cracked, then she cried.

She said she wasn't going to abort this pregnancy. This was a chance for a fresh start for her life.

"I wanted this baby. You can ask any of my co-workers, my family, everybody. I was beyond joy for this baby. It was everything. It was a chance to turn all of that crap and not ever be that person, and watch cartoons and play with toys and be happy for once. And he took all of that away from me, and I don't know why he did this. I don't know why he hates me so much. I don't know why this is so bad to have a baby with me. I don't know what's wrong with me that we couldn't just be happy, or at least (he could) just leave me alone, so I could be happy. …

"And I do still miss him, that's the worst part. He's my best friend and everything to me and he's not there and I hate it. It's just horrible. And I still don't hate him, I still don't want anything bad to happen to him. This isn't what I wanted. I wanted to be going to doctor's appointments. I wanted to have a baby shower. I wanted to see what the baby looked like. I wanted to see all of it. I wanted to see both of us and the baby."

Times staff writers Patty Ryan and Jimmy Geurts contributed to this story. Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or [email protected]

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