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Parents in 2013 Tampa abortion pill case pulled into lawsuit for damages

TAMPA — John Andrew Welden may be nearly two years into a federal prison sentence for tricking a pregnant ex-girlfriend into taking an abortion pill, but his family is back in court.

Earlier this fall, victim Remee Jo Lee added Welden's father and stepmother to a pending lawsuit, saying the medical professionals contributed to the loss of her 7-week-old embryo.

Lee, 29, ingested Cytotec in March 2013 after Welden forged his father's name on a prescription and disguised the pills as a common antibiotic. He didn't want to have a baby with Lee, and the medication causes contractions.

Through her attorneys, Lee accuses Dr. Stephen W. Welden and his wife, nurse practitioner Lenora Welden, of negligently breaching standards of care, in part by failing to secure the prescription pad the son used.

More pointedly, the amended complaint alleges that the doctor took a call from pharmacist Mary Ingrid Bendeck and "verified orally" that the prescription was valid before it was filled.

A tiny note on the prescription, part of court records, states, "Verified date with Dr. Welden."

But no evidence has been made public to substantiate that Bendeck talked personally to the obstetrician-gynecologist about the prescription.

"Dr. Welden denies the referenced allegations," attorney Ron Bush said Friday, referring to questions about the call. "We will not comment further on a matter in active litigation."

The lawsuit was refiled in November after a year in which Lee's attorneys elicited sworn out-of-court testimony from parties in the case, including the staff of the Lutz pharmacy that ordered and dispensed the drug.

The depositions are not filed in court, but one attorney in the case said Bendeck was unable to recall under oath with whom she spoke at the doctor's office.

Earlier this month, the judge signed an order allowing lawyers to question Welden at the Oakdale Federal Correctional Institution in western Louisiana.

Now 30, he is expected to remain in prison for a decade after pleading guilty to product tampering and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Tampa lawyer Trevor Rhodes sought the order and isn't yet certain when the meeting with Welden will occur.

He represents pharmacy technician Joseph Stahel. The lawsuit alleges that Stahel prepared a pill bottle with Lee's name on it, left the drug name blank and gave the bottle to Welden.

Rhodes said Stahel had no idea of Welden's intentions.

"We want to understand why Mr. Welden did what he did and to demonstrate that it had nothing to do with my client or his employer," Rhodes said.

Stahel was one of several people and entities associated with Sunlake Pharmacy in Lutz who were named in the complaint, first filed in September 2013.

The latest version adds allegations of negligence by the elder Weldens and reckless infliction of emotional distress by the doctor, his professional practice and by Thomas Faust, co-owner of the pharmacy.

The medical practice and Faust both had the authority to stop the dispensing of Cytotec to the younger Welden, but instead "ratified and condoned" the activity, the complaint states.

Lee, represented by attorneys Web Brennan and Gil Sanchez Valencia III, has asked for a jury trial. It's unclear when that might happen.

Contact Patty Ryan at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

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