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Religious Tolerance logo

The RU-486 abortion pill

Developments from 2003 to now

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Developments during 2003:

bullet 2003-JAN-15: RU-486 and similar pills used in about 6% of all abortions: The Alan Guttmacher Institute estimates that during the first six months of 2001, more than 37,000 non-surgical abortions were performed using RU-486 and similar medication. This represents approximately six percent of all abortions performed in the country. 1

bullet 2003-FEB-20: Anti RU-486 bill introduced into the House: Congressman David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced a bill in the house that would restrict the use of RU-486 (a.k.a. Mife[rex). Most pro-life activity is directed towards a total ban on the use of RU-488. However Vitter has taken an alternative approach: restricting the number of doctors who would be able to administer the drug. Available data shows that RU-486 is 35 times safer than continuing a pregnancy and giving birth. 2

bullet 2003-JUL-21: Conflict over cheaper medication: Americans generally pay more for their prescription medications than citizens of other countries. In addition, costs of medication are even more onerous in the U.S. because the country lacks a universal health plan which is found in almost every other developed country. Present legislation prohibits the importation of prescription drugs into the U.S. But some Americans have gone on bus trips to Canada or have used the Internet to obtain low cost medication. A bill was introduced into the House that would legalize the importation of cheap drugs. The pro-life movement appears to be split in its support of the bill. Three groups which oppose abortion access have issued conflicting statements:
bullet The Traditional Values Coalition says that if the bill were passed, RU-486 would become more easily obtained.

bullet The Family Research Council said that "drug re-importation [is a] bad idea, but not a pro-life issue."

bullet In mid-July, the Republican Study Committee wrote in a memorandum "The bill has nothing to do with abortion....In short, it would be as illegal for the average citizen to acquire RU-486 after enactment [of the proposed bill] as it is now."

The statement of the Coalition appears to be a factual error, because other existing legislation allows only hospitals and licensed physicians to acquire and administer RU-486. 3


2003-SEP-17: A young woman died after taking RU-486: Holly Patterson, 18, of Livermore, CA, died of complications after taking RU-486 on 2003-SEP-10. Full details are not available. However, she allegedly experienced bleeding and very severe cramps. She went to a medical center and was only given painkillers. She went to a hospital a few days later and died on SEP-17. Her father speculates that RU-486 induced a partial miscarriage. Fragments of the embryo remained inside her uterus became infected and caused her to go into septic shock.

Her father, Monty Patterson, said,

"I think it's a sad day when a father has to bury his daughter because she suffered in silence. I think it was fear and shame that made her decide she could do this, that she could take a pill and make it all go away. If she could have just talked to us, things would be different."

Her mother, Deborah Patterson, said:

"We hope with Holly's passing that other families can come together and take care of issues. We want to save other girls from the same demise and heartbreak. It was so needless, so needless....We're in this convenient society, this microwave society where things are quick and easy, and they're not. Talk to your parents ... there's nothing so bad that you could turn them away." 4,5

A spokesperson for Danco Laboratories, the producer of RU-486 in the U.S. estimated that 200,000 women in the U.S. have used the pill.

bullet 2003-NOV-1: Coroner's report confirms cause of Patterson's death: Holly Patterson was seven weeks pregnant on SEP-10 when she received a prescription for RU-486 from Planned Parenthood of Hayward, CA.  Apparently the embryo was not fully expelled from her body. This caused a massive systemic infection. She died on SEP-17 of septic shock. Frank Gentle, supervising coroner investigator. said that the cause of her death was "septic shock, due to endomyometritis (inflamation), due to therapeutic, drug-induced abortion." 6

At one death per 200,000 users, taking RU-486 is about 14 times safer than continuing with the pregnancy. Its safety is on a par with abortion via vacuum aspiration.

A bill was introduced to the House of Representatives to suspend sale of RU-486. It did not proceed.

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Developments during 2004:

bullet 2004-NOV-17: Suspension bill reintroduced: Two more women have died after taking RU-486 to end their pregnancies. However, Dr. Steven Galson, acting director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research said that he does not think that the drug was related to the fatal infections that the women contracted. Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) reintroduced a bill called the RU-486 Suspension and Review Act. If passed, it would order a review of the drug. It is commonly called "Holly's Law" and has 84 sponsors in the House and eight in the Senate. The bill never became law. 7

bullet 2005-SEP-23: USA: FDA official resigns: FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford resigned. He had only spent 18 months at the post. Planned Parenthood said that his policy on emergency contraceptive (EC) was to blame. He had vetoed a recommendation of FDA staff members and experts to make EC more easily obtainable. Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America said that the FDA's approval of RU-486 was responsible. She said: "The FDA has reported several women have died after taking this drug and the only action the FDA took was to change the wording on the warning label. We've been very disappointed with the FDA's action on that, allowing this dangerous drug to stay on the market." (The fatality rate associated with RU-486 is about the same as the death rate caused by legal abortions, and is far lower than caused by completed pregnancies.) 8

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Developments during 2005:

bullet 2005-DEC-07: Lawsuit is heard by federal appeals court concerning Ohio law: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends a 600 mg dose of RU-486, and recommends that it not be used after 7 weeks gestation. However, some physicians prescribe drugs "off label." This means that they deviate from FDA recommendations and follow "...the best and most recent advice available. Medical literature shows that RU-486 can be safely used up to the ninth week -- and perhaps later -- and is effective at much lower dosage.

A 2004 law, passed to restrict access to early abortion, states that any doctor who exceeds the FDA time limit or deviates from the recommended dose is committing a criminal act and can be sentenced to jail for up to 18 months. The time-limit/strength legislation is unique in the U.S. RU-486 is the only drug limited by the State of Ohio in this way. 9 More details.

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Developments during 2006:


2006-FEB-16: Australia: Ban on RU-486 abandoned: Australia's lower House of Representatives voted with almost a 2:1 margin, to remove the authority of Tony Abbott, the health minister, to prevent the import and prescription of  RU-486. SABC News describes Abbot as a:

"conservative, [Roman] Catholic, anti-abortionist..."

The bill had previously been passed by a vote of 45 to 28 in Australia's Senate. Applications to import and fill prescriptions of RU-486 will now be handled by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which regulates medicines, medical devices, blood, tissues and chemicals. 10

bullet 2006-MAY-11: GA: Food and Drug Administration study on RU-486: A panel of scientists are to meet in the Atlanta campus of the Centers for Disease Control to discuss the deaths of four California woman due to a deadly infection after using RU-486. The bacteria involved are Clostridium sordellii and Clostridium difficile. A fifth death of a Colorado woman is being investigated. One topic will be whether the deaths are tied to the vaginal administration of misoprostol. Danco, the manufacturer of the drug will be at the meeting. They note that by the end of 2006-MAR, mifepristone had been used by about 575,000 women in the U.S. with "a very low rate of infection," that there is no evidence that the vaginal administration causes an increased risk of infections, and that there is no evidence of contamination of mifepristone. 11

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Developments during 2013:


2013: Survey of success rate and safety: According to the Guttmacher Policy Review:

"Medication abortion is highly effective: Its 92–95% success rate is comparable to that of surgical abortion. It is also safe, as severe complications are extremely rare. Of the 1.52 million women in the United States who used Mifeprex between 2000 and 2011, 612 were hospitalized, most frequently because they required a transfusion due to excessive bleeding.

During the same period, there were eight documented cases of U.S. women dying from a severe infection after taking Mifeprex; FDA investigations into these deaths, however, found no evidence of a causal relationship between Mifeprex and the infections." 12

Developments during 2015:


2015-AUG-01: RU-486 to be made available in Canada: The drug manufacturer, Linepharma International, applied to Health Canada in 2012. It has taken until mid 2015 for the federal agency to approve it. It is a mystery why approval has taken so long. The drug is included in the World Health Organization's Model List of Essential Medicines. It was approved in France since 1988, the UK since 1991, the United States since the year 2000, and in 54 countries since then. More than 60% of all abortions in some European contries are performed with this drug in place of surgical methods. It is also used in about 20% of abortions in the U.S. 13

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Amy Westfeldt, "RU-486, similar pills accounted for 6 percent of U.S. abortions, study  finds," Associated Press, 2002-JAN-15, at:
  2. David Brody, "Bill to Restrict RU-486 Introduced," Focus on the Family, 2003-FEB-20, at:
  3. John Godfrey, "US Rx Drug Import Bill Prompts Fight Among Abortion Foes," Dow Jones Business News, 2003-JUL-21, at:
  4. "California Teen Dies After Complications from Abortion Pill," Associated Press, 2003-SEP-33, at:
  5. Steven Ertelt, "Investigation Into RU 486 Abortion Death Begins,", 2003-SEP-22, at:
  6. Matt Carter, "Autopsy data released in RU-486 death. Coroner confirms theory that Livermore teen died of septic shock," Tri-Valley Herald, 2003-NOV-1, at:
  7. Joyce Howard Price, "GOP seeks suspension of RU-486," Washington Times, 2004-NOV-17 at:
  8. "FDA Commissioner Resigns Amid Controversy," Citizen Link, 2005-SEP-27, at:
  9. Bill Sloat, "Doctors join foes of Ohio's pill limits. Ohio challenged on use limitations," Plain Dealer, Cleveland, OH, 2005-DEC-05.
  10. "Australia scraps ban on abortion drug," SABC News, 2006-FEB-16, at:
  11. Anna Mathews & Betsy McKay, "U.S. Health Experts to Examine Infections, Ties to Abortion Pill," Wall Street Journal, 2006-MAY-08. Page A6, at:
  12. H. D. Boonstra, "Medication Abortion Restrictions Burden Women and Providers - and Threaten U.S. Trend Toward Very Early Abortion," Guttmacher Policy Review, 2013-Winter, Vol. 16, #1. Online at:
  13. "Abortion Pill: Approved finally, Toronto Star, 2015-AUG-01, at:
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Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Facts > RU-486 > here

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Copyright © 2003 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-AUG-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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