The RU-486 abortion pill
Developments in various
countries, from 2003 to 2005:
This is a continuation of the previous article which covered the years 1999 and 2000
Developments during 2003 in the U.S.:
||2003-JAN-15: RU-486 and similar pills were used in about 6% of all
abortions in the United States: The Alan Guttmacher Institute estimated 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
2003-FEB-20: An anti RU-486 bill was introduced into the U.S. House: Congressman David
Vitter (R-LA) has introduced a bill in the House that would restrict the
use of RU-486. Most pro-life activity had been 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 to the woman than continuing a
pregnancy and giving birth. 2
Of course, that only considers the pregnant woman; the embryo dies.
||2003-JUL-21: Conflict over cheaper medication: Americans
generally pay more for their prescription medications than citizens of
other countries. In addition, costs of medical care 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:
||The Traditional Values Coalition says that if the bill were
passed, RU-486 would become more easily obtained.
||The Family Research Council said that "drug
re-importation [is a] bad idea, but not a pro-life issue."
||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-10: A young woman died after taking RU-486: Holly Patterson, 18, of Livermore, CA, died of complications after
taking RU-486. 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,
"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
spokesperson for Danco Laboratories, the producer of
RU-486 in the U.S. estimated that 200,000 women in the U.S. have used
||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.
Developments during 2004:
RU-486 became a frequently used alternative to surgical abortions for
pregnancies less than 50 days/7 weeks duration. Although the very rare deaths of women
who took the drug have been heavily publicized, the death rate appears to be
similar to that caused by surgical abortion and is much less than the death rate
caused by continued pregnancy and childbirth.
FDA has circulated updated reports on the drug as more information became
2004-NOV-17: USA: Suspension bill
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
U.S. Developments during 2005:
||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.
More recent developments are described in the next article
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Amy Westfeldt, "RU-486, similar pills accounted for 6 percent of U.S.
abortions, study finds," Associated Press, 2002-JAN-15, at: http://www.nola.com/
- David Brody, "Bill to Restrict RU-486 Introduced," Focus on the
Family, 2003-FEB-20, at: http://www.family.org/
- John Godfrey, "US Rx Drug Import Bill Prompts Fight Among Abortion Foes,"
Dow Jones Business News, 2003-JUL-21, at: http://biz.yahoo.com/
- "California Teen Dies After Complications from Abortion Pill,"
Associated Press, 2003-SEP-33, at: http://abclocal.go.com/
- Steven Ertelt, "Investigation Into RU 486 Abortion Death Begins,"
LifeNews.com, 2003-SEP-22, at: http://www.lifenews.com/
- 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: http://www.trivalleyherald.com/
- Joyce Howard Price, "GOP seeks suspension of RU-486," Washington
Times, 2004-NOV-17 at: http://www.washtimes.com/
- "FDA Commissioner Resigns Amid Controversy," Citizen Link,
2005-SEP-27, at: http://www.family.org/
- Bill Sloat, "Doctors join foes of Ohio's pill limits. Ohio challenged on
use limitations," Plain Dealer, Cleveland, OH, 2005-DEC-05.
- "Australia scraps ban on abortion drug," SABC News, 2006-FEB-16, at: http://www.sabcnews.com/
- Anna Mathews & Betsy McKay, "U.S.
Health Experts to Examine Infections, Ties to Abortion Pill," Wall Street
Journal, 2006-MAY-08. Page A6, at: http://online.wsj.com/
- 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: http://www.guttmacher.org/
- "Abortion Pill: Approved finally, Toronto Star, 2015-AUG-01, at: http://www.pressreader.com/
- Sharon Kirkey, "Home abortion pill about to hit market in Canada, but has already garnered criticism," National Post, 2016-APR-19, at: http://news.nationalpost.com/
- Victoria Gibson. "Ontario to cover cost of abortion pill starting Aug. 10," The Toronto Star, 2017-AUG-03, at: https://www.thestar.com/
Copyright © 2003 to 2020 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2020-AUG-03
Author: B.A. Robinson
2015 to now: RU-486 becomes available in Canada:
Health Canada approved RU-486 during 2015-JUL, for use up to seven weeks into a pregnancy. It had been expected to become available in Canada starting in 2016-JAN. 7 However, its release was delayed a year later, until 2017-JAN. Unlike almost all other medications, it was not made available from a pharmacist via a prescription. Instead, it was initially dispensed only by a physician who has first completed an on-line certification course. This allowed the physician to observe his patient actually ingesting the pill.
One of the main advantage to using this medication instead of undergoing a surgical abortion is that women who live in small towns or rural areas would not have to travel for long distances to a clinic that performs abortions. Outside of Quebec, such clinics are typically located only in large cities. However, the requirement that doctors purchase, stock, dispense, collect payment, and reimburse the supplier will probably restrict availability of RU-486 across Canada. Dr. Wendy Norman at the University of British Columbia said:
"This requirement is medically unnecessary and demeaning to Canadian women. ... The single most important reason physicians from across the country are citing for not planning to offer mifepristone is the need for physician dispensing. ... The physicians we have polled -- particularly rural physicians -- have no infrastructure for this." 8
The two-drug combination was sold under the name Mifegymiso. It was originally expected to cost about CAN $270.00. 8 However, starting on 2017-AUG-03, the Province of Ontario adsorbed the cost of the medication so that it was dispensed for free. Indira Naidoo-Harris, Ontario’s Minister of the Status of Women, told a news conference at the Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre in Toronto that eliminating the fee for the drug is:
"... about fairness, it's about safety, and it's the right thing to do." 9
Other provinces followed suit.
During 2017-NOV, Health Canada decided that Mifegymiso could also be dispensed by a pharmacist.
Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights,, said:
"There is decades worth of evidence from use in over 60 countries proving how safe and effective this medication is, yet Mifegymiso is more regulated than controlled substances in Canada. ... Abortion access shouldn’t depend on your postal code or income bracket. It’s the responsibility of all levels of government to address two-tiered access.”