NEW YORK – A small abortion rights group announced that it will make the so-called abortion pill available free to 10,000 U.S. women in research trials as a stopgap measure until the drug can be distributed nationally.

The New York-based Abortion Rights Mobilization will expand its trials of mifepristone, the drug known in France as RU-486, said Lawrence Lader, president of the nonprofit group.

The group had already provided the drug to 1,000 women in clinical trials in Rochester, N.Y.; Bellevue, Neb.;” Burlington, Vt.; Kalispell, Mont.; New York; San Francisco; and Seattle. With new funding from the John Merck Fund, it plans to announce additional sites in New York, Texas, Maryland and Florida.

“These new clinics will bring RU-486 within reasonable travelling distance of all U.S. women,” Lader said. He said none of the clinics has been a target of violence or economic boycott by abortion opponents.

The pill, sold in France, Sweden and Britain, causes the developing baby to be expelled from the womb. About 200,000 women have ended pregnancies with RU-486 since its introduction in 1988.

The Food and Drug Administration gave the group permission to test the drug but does not allow it to charge a fee. In September, the FDA declared the drug safe and effective but withheld final approval to await more information on manufacturing and labelling.

Lader said his group decided to supply the pill after learning in June that the Population Council would be meet its target of distributing the drug by the end of 1997.

The New York-based Population Council holds U.S rights to manufacture the drug, but has suffered a series of setbacks in marketing it. Other groups may copy patented drugs for research as long as they don’t offer them commercially.

Lader said his group’s trials with the drug use a smaller dose than in Europe. He said women using the lower dosage in the U.S. trials had no side-effects in 98 per cent of cases, while women using the higher dosage in the European trials had no side-effects in 95 per cent of the cases. Either dose was equally effective in terminating the pregnancy. Pro-lifers claim harmful side-effects are much higher than the manufacture and supporters claim.

Associated Press via Pro Life E News Canada