The medication "mifepristone" was developed in France by Dr. Etienne-Emile Baulieu in 1980. He
found a medication that prevented a woman's body from producing a hormone that
sustains early pregnancy. Taking this medication terminates the pregnancy process. It is commonly known as RU-486, where "RU" stands for the initials of the company, and "486" is an arbitrary laboratory number.
However, some commentators have suggested that RU-486 really means "aRe yoU FOR getting rid of." ("86" is an English slang term that means "throw out" or "get rid of.") 2
RU-486 was first made available to women in France, where it is called Mifegyne. It has been used, in combination with a second medication, prostaglandin, to induce abortions in in many hundreds of thousands of pregnancies. It is effective if used early in pregnancy. It works similarly to a natural miscarriage.
Dozens of clinical studies on RU-486 were conducted with thousands of women in over 20 countries, including France,
Britain, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the U.S., Scandinavian countries, and the former Soviet Union. 3 By 1999, mifespristone
had been approved for marketing and sale in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Israel, the Netherlands and Spain. 4
2000-DEC: RU-486 finally became available in the United States:
Laboratories, the U.S. distributor, had expected to be selling the pill in that country by the end of 1999. 3 That did not happen.
The FDA finally approved the pill for U.S. distribution on 2000-SEP-28. It first became available to the public in 2000-DEC. The Alan Guttmacher Institute estimates that during the first six months of 2001, more than 37,000 abortions were induced using RU-486 and similar medication. This represented
approximately six percent of all abortions performed, during its first year on the market. 5
As of 2002-MAY, initial indications were that about 29% of women who are eligible to use RU-486, and to whom it was offered, have chosen it in
preference to a more invasive surgical abortion. 6
By mid-2015, the use of RU-486 in some European countries has risen to include about 60% of all abortions, the rest being done surgically. In the U.S. it was used in about 20% of all abortions. However, with so many Republican dominated state legislatures passing restrictive legislation that is forcing abortion clinics out of business, RU-486 will probably become the preferred path to terminate pregnancies in the future.