The French pharmaceutical giant Roussel-Uclaf produces RU-486, a steroid whose sole purpose is to bring about an abortion.  It does so by destroying the lining of the uterus, thereby dislodging the already attached fetus (baby) who dies and is then expelled.

In the summer of 1990, the French government sold its 40 per cent share of Roussel-Uclaf to Rhone-Poulenc, a leading French pharmaceutical company.  Rhone-Poulenc has since completed a merger with Rorer, a major U.S. drug company.  Hoechst A.G. of Frankfurt, West Germany owns 60 per cent of Roussel-Uclaf.
Some think that this multi-national conglomerate is poised to manufacture and distribute RU-486 worldwide.  Edouard Saki, Roussel’s president, has remarked that “The greatest wish of our company is to see this product developed throughout the world.”


RU-486 was first identified as a ‘morning-after’ pill, which prevents the fertilized egg from implanting itself onto the uterine wall.
Later research revealed that the drug does not function immediately after conception (and prior to implantation in the wall of the uterus).  As a result, it was then touted as a kind of ‘menstrual regulator’, a drug a woman could take and not even know that she was aborting, presumably easing her conscience.  Subsequently, researchers discovered that RU-486 produces a phenomenon called ‘dysynchrony’ in which a woman’s ovulatory and menstrual cycles become unlinked.  This condition reduces the drug’s effectiveness in ending pregnancies.

At present, RU-486 is used only in France under strict supervision.  A woman seeking to abort makes three trips to hospital or ‘clinic.’  These involve an initial visit for medical screening (some women are turned down); a second forty-eight hours later, for prostaglandin (the Pill) treatment; and a final visit a week later to make sure she has completely aborted.

Massive boycott

One of the reasons that American pharmaceutical companies have not shown much interest in manufacturing and marketing RU-486 is due to the fear of a massive boycott of all their other products by the pro-life movement.  But the larger and more compelling reason is the fear of expensive liability suits.

Experience has shown that inadequately tested drugs can result in huge lawsuits that can be financially ruinous for drug companies.

The drug’s molecular structure resembles that of the infamous DES (diethylstilbestrol), the 1950’s anti-miscarriage drug that caused cancer in the daughters of women who took it.

All published studies strongly urge women on whom RU-486 proves ineffective to undergo a surgical abortion.  A woman is thus virtually obligated to have a conventional abortion if and when RU-486 fails.


Dr. Jean-Michel Alexandre, president of the French government’s Medical Sales Commission, states that the “main drawback to the new drug [RU-486] is that it increases the risk of birth defects in babies who survive, and all women who take it would be virtually obligated to have another abortion if the pregnancy was not terminated the first time.”

Some studies place the abortion-effectiveness rate between 50 and 85 per cent.  However, when it is taken with the Pill (prostaglandin), the rate increases to about 95 per cent.

One case has been reported of a mother who took RU-486, did not abort, and refused to have a surgical abortion.  Her baby was born dead at six months; its legs were malformed and fused together.

Mothers themselves can also be victims of RU-486.   Severe cramping, nausea, vomiting and bleeding are not uncommon.  Lancet (December 19, 1987) reported that half the women who took RU-486 bled profusely for 12-42 days.  Thirteen cases have been reported of women who needed blood transfusions.  Heart anomalies have also been reported.

Some critics refer to RU-486 as the “chemical Dalkon Shield of the 90’s.”  For detailed accounts of how drug companies have been hurt financially (the company that produced the Dalkon Shield went into bankruptcy) as a result of manufacturing and promoting dangerous contraceptives, read Paul Vaughn’s The Pill on Trial; Morton Mintz’s At any Cost: Corporate Greed, Women and the Dalkon Shield; and Nightmare: Women and the Dalkon Shield by Susan Perry and Jim Dawson.

The National Organization for Women (NOW), together with Planned Parenthood and the newly-formed Fund for a Feminist Majority, are lobbying hard in Washington to get RU-486 approved for use in the U.S.

Planned Parenthood has worked tirelessly to support an amendment that would have exempted abortifacients from a products-liability bill in Congress.