Fem. The ''abortion'' pill now in France
219/474 16 Apr 90 01:28:00
From: Robert Hood
following consists of excerpts from an article that concerns
the controversial RU 486 "abortion pill". This article,
"Profiles in Courage: Dr. E. E. Baulieu" appears in the May
1990 issue of Penthouse Forum and starts on page 40. (Okay,
so it ain't exactly Newsweek....) These quotes are
restricted to the discussion of RU 486, and do not include
the discussion of Dr. Baulieu that can also be found in the
article. Quotes from different parts of the article are
separated by blank lines, and boldfaced subheadings have
been converted to CAPS.
In the early seventies, Baulieu and his research team
discovered the receptors within the cells of the uterus that
receive messages from progestrone. This led them to search
for a chemical that poses as a progestrone impostor,
tricking the uterus into rejecting the real thing. The
concept is the next step beyond conventional birth-control
pills, which fool the body into behaving as if it were
already pregnant and thus prevent fertilization. The
progestrone impostor tricks the body into behaving as if the
lining of the uterus were already receiving the progestrone
necessary for the development of a fertilized egg, thus
rejecting the true hormone.
THE MONTH-AFTER PILL to be. As approved for use in
France (in 1986), it must be used within five weeks of
conception - the time period in which it is safest and most
Usually, RU 486 is prescribed within days after a missed
period. French women are not permitted to take it the
morning after coitus and possible conception; they are
required to take a pregnancy test and then - if pregnant -
to wait a week in order to be sure of their decision. A
dosage of six hundred milligrams in three
two-hundred-milligram pills is ninety-five percent effective
when followed by a shot of prostaglandin, a drug that causes
uterine contractions, two days later. Women report the
effects are like a heavy period, with accompanying cramps,
lasting several days.
RU 486, a synthetic steroid, generically known as
mifepristone, is [...] chemically different, yet remarkably
similar to progesterone and [blocks] its action. Without
progesterone, the lining of the uterine wall breaks down and
is sloughed off, causing menstruation.
Over ten thousand women have received RU 486 abortions
in France, where it is available only in designated clinics
and hospitals. At a cost equivalent to about one hundred
and twenty-five dollars, the procedure is cheaper than
surgical abortion. The risks of anesthesia, perforation of
the uterus during surgery, psychological trauma, infection
and infertility are avoided. Other than the cramping and,
in some cases, nausea and fatigue, there have been no side
effects reported by French doctors.
Critics, however, suggest RU 486 is not the harmless
drug its champions claim. Most notably, Charlotte Low Allen
[...] has pointed to a number of possible drawbacks:
o The process is time-consuming, requiring several
days to complete and three visits to a gynecologist rather
than one to the abortion clinic.
o Heavy bleeding may occur in some women.
o A woman _might_ see the expelled embryo,
approximately three-quarters of an inch in length at that
stage of development.
o Since long-term studies are not available, it isn't
known if the drug can cause defects in subsequent fetuses or
suppress ovulation in some women.
Obviously, these concerns and others would be
addressed in the rigorus testing the U.S. government
requires of all drugs before allowing their use. The
contragestation pill would be a vast improvement over
surgical abortion in developed countries, where deaths from
legal abortions are relatively rare. In underdeveloped
countries, where clinical facilities are few and frequently
unsanitary by Western standards, the pill might save most of
the hundred thousand lives lost worldwide to the
complications of abortions each year. China [...] is the
only nation that will get RU 486 in the immediate future.
Sweden and the United Kingdom will probably soon follow.
Yet the prospects for research and eventual distribution of
the pill in the United States in the forseeable future
THE POLITICS OF ABORTION
Labeling it the "French death pill," militant pro-life
forces regard RU 486 as the most serious threat to their
cause since abortions were made legal. But while pro-life
activists operate on the belief that conception is achieved
with fertilization, the American College of Obstetricians an
Gynecologists defines conception as _implantation_ of a
fertilized egg, not merely fertilization (a large percentage
of fertilized eggs fail naturally to implant themselves).
Thus RU 486 could be labeled in this country as a
contraceptive, not an abortifacient. However it is labeled,
the pill, pro-life forces fear, would be treated by many as
a menstrual inducer, thus psychologically skirting the issue
of abortion. "We'd lose some of our best arguments," Richard
Glasgow, education director of the National Right to Life
Committee has admitted, possibly referring to the pictures
of tiny mutilated fetuses that pro-life advocates sometimes
wave in the faces of women entering clinics. Perhaps
clinics would no longer be necessary for most women. The
matter would become a more private one, involving only a
woman and her gynecologist - making it far more difficult
for pro-lifers to mount their terrorist tactics.
[Description of U.S. pro-lifers' intended boycott of
Hoeschst AG omitted.]
Drug experts point out that no other proven drug has
ever been withheld in this manner. The power of
anti-abortion activists, particularly in America, is
awesome. Though they represent a minority opinion, they
have, until very recently, been successful in imposing their
viewpoint on the rest of the country. Packing the Supreme
Court with right-wing pro-life justices was only the most
visible of their moves. In addition they have:
o Stopped the use of federal funds to study
o Reduced the number of U.S. pharmaceutical companies
that have research programs to study human reproduction and
contraception from twenty in 1970 to _one_ - namely, Ortho
o Confined the distribution of RU 486 to France and
[Description and examples of the pro-life boycotting
Their efforts may lead to black-market smuggling of RU
486. Experts fear the drug will be misused if this happens.
The follow-up injection (or, sometimes, vaginal suppository)
of prostaglandin is an essential part of the process. If
the drug is taken more than eight weeks after conception, or
without the additional hormone - and without adequate
medical supervision - excessive bleeding or an incomplete
abortion may result. The only way to prevent a black-market
trade in RU 486 is to make illicit sales unprofitable by
supplying it legally in all the countries of the world.
RU 486 IN AMERICA
[...] no U.S. companies have applied for a license to
bring the drug here.
If that were done, the testing period for full FDA
approval would take another twenty months to two years.
[...] One possible candidate is GynoPharma, the
Summerville, New Jersey firm that manufactures an IUD
developed by the Population Council. According to an
article in _Business Week_ magazine, "The company denies it,
but sources at Roussel confirm that it has held talks with
Perhaps the changing political climate in the U.S.
will encourage GynoPharma or some other small firm to apply
for a license. The pro-choice rallies organized in
Washington D.C. in April and November of 1989 were larger
than any pro-life march on the capital has ever seen.
Government may finally be getting the message that the
majority of Americans are pro-choice, as they repeatedly
tell poll-takers. Many are also angered and appalled at how
the minority has so far succeeded in banning RU 486.
Baulieu [...] uses the media to spread the facts about
the drug and the politics behind its exceedingly slow
acceptance around the world. Lest one think he is motivated
by the desire for money, Baulieu does not collect royalties
from sales of the pill.
I will not reply directly to this article's points except
to say that I promote the rights of the individual to choose
for him/herself in most issues, abortion being only one of
them. If RU 486 is a safe alternative to surgical abortion,
I believe the United States should at least start testing
it, and hopefully distribute it. I agree with the French
system that puts this medication in a doctor's hands and
does not distribute it as just another birth control pill,
and believe that RU 486 should be offered as an alternative
to surgical abortion (perhaps even in the abortion clinics).