The first “foolproof” abortion pill, called RU-486, is now in its final tests with the British Committee on Safety of Medicines. (see January issue of the The Interim) The pill will be used in France, India and China this year and has been approved by the World Health Organization for use in other Third World Nations.
This pill is being promoted as an effective, non-surgical and safe means to obtain an early abortion. Some British doctors are concerned, however that it will be too easy to obtain. Consultant gynaecologist, Mr. Peter Diggory, told the Daily Express (December 20, 1984) “We know by experience that as soon as the pill is available, somebody will be able to get it on the black market. I am quite sure that within a fairly short time one of these pills will be available in this way and then it could be used in late pregnancy by a woman of in a state of sudden emotion. It could perfectly well work on a woman of 30 weeks’ pregnancy for instance, bearing a viable baby,” he pointed out. “And then there may be a time when you can just go and get these pills over the counter. It is a terrifying thing.”
Prevent the embryo from Implanting
RU-486 is an antiprogresterone. In very early pregnancy, it would prevent the embryo from implanting in the womb. In later pregnancies (after the seven to ten days it takes the embryo to implant), its effect is to cause detachment of the endometrium, or lining of the womb, and then the embryo is aborted.
The pill is most effective when gestation was less than eight weeks, according to The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal (December 8,1984).
“About 80 per cent of pregnancies of less than eight weeks’ gestation were terminated by RU-486 alone, but when a small dose of prostaglandin (about one-sixth that used alone) was given at the end of the course of RU-486 in 7 week old pregnancies the procedures was successful in all,” the article states.
The Lancet report points out that the optimum dose has yet to be determined. It also reveals that the pill has been given to women between four and 19 weeks’ pregnant, and that it caused uterine bleeding in all women taking it. It does not reveal how many women were used as guinea pigs in this fashion, how many babies died or how many women subsequently had abortions or carried their babies to term.
Katherine Hadley, the author of the article in the Daily Express quoted above points out that most British doctors prefer ordinary contraceptives as a means of preventing unwanted pregnancies. “And if not contraception,” she says, “then the morning after pill. It is thought that RU-486 will be more efficient than the present pill, which can be upset the subsequent regularity of the periods.” She also notes that once the pill is widely available, there will be cases where it is kept for “emergency” use by some women.
“…when we are used to this pill…”
Under current British Law, the pill would not be available on general prescription. Although, Miss Hadley says, “There are those who believe that in timek when we are used to this pill, the Abortion Act will be amended to allow British GPs to prescribe it.” She points out that abortion on demand (up to ten weeks) is legal in France and it would be simple for a woman to ask her doctor for a prescription. With Britain and France near-neighbours, “Cross-channel black marketing in RU-486 would be a simple business,” she believes.
The pill’s inventor, Dr. Etienne-Emile Beaulieu, says “It is easy, self administered and foolproof. It has not shown any side-effects.” Side effects, however are sometimes only known after a pill has been in wide use for many years as the contraceptive pill has shown.
“The abortion pill is no longer scientific fantasy,” says Katherine Hadley. “The use of such pills, whether here or in the Third World, must be fully discussed now, with all the moral and physical implications. It is not enough to believe that everything will be fine and properly supervised by doctors.”