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RU-486: A Risk to Body and Soul

Safety Concerns

Not Simple or Convenient

'A Deadly Blindness'



“Worst of all, approving chemical abortion will further numb our consciences to the violence of abortion and the taking of innocent human life.” So noted Gail Quinn, executive director of the Secretariat of the Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Pro-life Activities, commenting on the September 28, 2000, decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the abortion pill mifepristone (Mifiprex or RU-486) for use in the United States.

RU-486 was developed in the 1980s by the French drug company Roussel Uclaf (hence the RU name) for the express purpose of killing unborn children. RU-486 works by causing the uterus to shed its lining, dislodging the embryo. Alone, it has a low success rate—unless used with misoprostol, a powerful prostaglandin drug which induces uterine contractions to expel the now-dead baby.

Danco Laboratories, LLC, is the U.S. company licensed to market and distribute mifepristone. The drug may actually be made in China.

The Chicago-area pharmaceutical company Searle, which manufactures misoprostol under the trade name of Cytotec for treatment of gastric ulcers, strenuously objects to its use in abortions. An open letter from Searle to health-care providers warns that in pregnant women Cytotec can cause maternal as well as fetal death, bleeding, amniotic fluid embolism, retained placenta and shock, among other “adverse events.”

That should have been enough to give the FDA pause.

Safety Concerns

Last June the FDA had proposed making mifepristone available only to licensed physicians trained in surgical abortion, certified in ultrasonography and connected to a hospital no more than one hour away from their office. Also, on-site observation of a patient after taking misoprostol is the nearly standard practice followed in other countries using the drug combination.

But by the time the FDA approved the drug in September, these modest precautions were relaxed. Now in the United States, doctors prescribing mifepristone need only to sign an agreement with the drug’s distributor that they will assess pregnancy duration accurately, diagnose tubal pregnancy, and provide surgical intervention or have a referral arrangement with an abortion provider. Additionally, the doctors must see patients 14 days later and report any adverse events.

RU-486 “failure” rates increase dramatically when the fetus is more than 49 days old. Incomplete abortions can result in infection, sterility and maternal death. Many women in the United States do not return to abortion clinics now for follow-up appointments.

Legalized abortion was pitched to the American public as a way to “take abortion out of the back rooms and make it safe.” RU-486, however, does not achieve even that end.

Not Simple or Convenient

Yet, for some reason, the pro-choice lobby badly wanted RU-486 in its arsenal of abortion options. Taking an abortion pill sounds as if it might be an easy and convenient way to get rid of an unwanted child.

“Many have misleadingly promoted mifepristone as a panacea. In reality, chemical abortion is an intense, 3-15-day regimen involving multiple office visits and a combination of drugs with the possibility of life-threatening complications,” Quinn pointed out.

Perhaps not as gruesome as surgical abortion, RU-486 is still taking a human life. Instead of producing a guilt-free abortion, RU-486 actually may force mothers to confront what they are doing—as they themselves may have to see and dispose of the dead fetus.

'A Deadly Blindness'

“What was once seen as an act of desperation—the killing of one’s own child—is now fiercely defended as a good and promoted as a right,” said the U.S. bishops in their 1997 statement Light and Shadows: Our Nation 25 Years After Roe v. Wade.

The bishops went on to say: “Even worse, a deadly blindness has come over our land, preventing many persons of goodwill from recognizing the right of innocent human lives to respect, acceptance and help. Claims of privacy and an ethic of unlimited individualism have been used to undermine government’s responsibility to protect life. Legalized violence has spread through our society like a cancer. The powerless of all ages are threatened.”

So what’s to be done? At minimum, we can push for mifepristone’s recall. Short of that, we can demand close monitoring of its use.

At the same time, we can:

  • Continue pro-life political pressure like the March for Life in January.

  • Support the work of pregnancy centers which offer pro-life counseling.

  • Reach out on a personal level to pregnant women in need of help.

  • Realize the suffering of women who have had abortions and direct them to post-abortion healing programs like Project Rachel (phone 1-800-593-2273).

  • And the most radical—in the sense of getting at the root—of all the pro-life efforts we can make is to show respect for life in our own homes.

    The bishops say: “Catholic families should be living symbols of our conviction that life is always, always a gift from God. Teach your children to respect human life from conception to natural death.”

    Only if that basic value of life is learned through real-life experience will surgical or drug-induced abortions ever be totally eliminated.—B.B.


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