Clinical trials confirmed the efficacy and safety of mifepristone (formerly known as RU486) in the U.S., according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The drug allows women to obtain a medical abortion within seven weeks or less of a pregnancy.
The study was conducted by the Population Council on 2,121 women at abortion clinics, university hospitals and 17 Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide. Investigators found that the drug was most effective when taken in the first 49 days of pregnancy. Overall results showed a 92 percent success rate in ending pregnancies.
Women visit a clinic three times during the procedure. On the first visit women take a drug known as mifepristone, which blocks the hormone that is necessary to maintain pregnancy. Women return for a second visit to take the prostaglandin, misopostol, which causes uterine contractions that then expel the egg. A third visit is required to make sure the pregnancy termination is complete.
Many women prefer the medical abortion over a surgical procedure, said Dr. Beverly Winikoff, Director of the Population Council’s reproductive health programs. Winikoff added that even the women who took the pills, but had to have a surgical abortion due to complications, “will tell you that they would try the method again, and they would recommend it to others.”
Although mifepristone has been available in Europe for 10 years, the drug’s manufacturer, Hoechst AG, has discontinued manufacturing the drug due to pressure from anti-choice extremists.
President of the Feminist Majority Foundation Eleanor Smeal commented, “For ten years, anti-abortion zealots in the U.S. have held mifepristone hostage, denying American women access to a proven method of early medical abortion and putting a halt to research into the drug’s promise as a treatment for meningiomas (brain tumors), fibroid tumors, endometriosis, Cushing’s Syndrome, and a myriad of other serious diseases and conditions that affect women’s health,” Smeal continued. “Can you imagine this drug, which has the potential to fight cancers, is being held up because of medical McCarthyism?”
The Population Council, which owned the rights to the drug, has licensed its rights to a new pharmaceutical firm, the Danco Group. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an “approval letter” for RU 486 in 1996, deeming it safe and effective. The FDA is awaiting final information on manufacturing before giving approval. The Danco Group has found a manufacturer and plans to market the drug in 1999, said Danco spokeswoman Heather O’Neill.
“We urge the Population Council and their commercial partner, the Danco Group … to do everything in their power to immediately bring mifepristone to American women,” said Peg Yorkin, Chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation Board. She added, “And, it’s time for us to counter the influence of anti-abortion forces over the pharmaceuticals. We must create a climate in the nation and in the pharmaceutical industry in which anti-abortion politics is not allowed to interfere with medical advances for women.”
Feminist News Stories on Mifepristone
Feminist Majority Foundation Press Release: Evidence For Safety And Efficacy of Mifepristone Mounts American Women Demand Access to Medical Breakthroughs, Smeal Says