Washington, DC -- Called the "true legacy" of the pro-abortion Clinton-Gore administration, the dangerous Ru 486 abortion drug begins U.S. distribution this week. Pro-abortion groups have hailed it as a turning point in the abortion debate, but that may not turn out to be the case immediately.
As the first RU-486 abortions to begin this week, don't expect such sweeping change yet. Private doctors so far aren't rushing to embrace the abortion drug, now called mifepristone - and many of the thousands of women flooding hotlines seeking it are learning it may be more a difficult process than imagined.
``A woman might feel that all she has to do is take a pill and the pregnancy kind of magically disappears, and of course that's not true,'' said Maureen Paul of Boston's Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
Many places are about to offer mifepristone abortions using a method that supposedly means less hassle for patients than the Food and Drug Administration-approved method -- swallowing fewer pills and making one less visit to an abortion facility. Still, it takes several days and miscarriage-like cramping and bleeding before the dangerous pill-caused abortion is complete, while surgical abortions are finished within an hour. And the pill only works during a certain early time period after conception -- a caveat abortion facilities may or may not make sure women understand.
Pro-life organizations, who call use of the abortion drug immoral and unsafe, vowed to try to dissuade doctors from dispensing the drug and discourage women from taking it.
The National Right-to-Life Committee is planning to highlight the abortion drug's dangerous side effects, which includes very severe bleeding, for the women who take it, said spokeswoman Laura Echevarria. Some women will have such sever bleeding they will require surgery. During the trials in the U.S., one Iowa woman require a blood transfusion.
"We are saddened by the introduction of RU-486 ... and we are in the process of putting together an educational effort to make sure American women know the dangers associated with (it)," Echevarria said in an interview.
The FDA approved mifepristone in September, 12 years after European women began using it and after years of principled opposition by pro-life organziations.
On Monday, U.S. marketer Danco Laboratories shipped the first mifepristone supplies, mostly to abortion facilities affiliated with Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation. More than 300 such places are expected to offer the abortion drug within a few weeks. Most say they'll cost the same as surgical abortions -- $300 to $700.
Women can get mifepristone, known by the brand name Mifeprex, only directly from abortion facilities who agree to follow certain lenient FDA safety standards.
So far, many private doctors are wary. Some cite safety concerns. But there also are practical obstacles: Insurers are debating whether and how much to pay for mifepristone. Doctors must get mifepristone training. They must be able to date early pregnancy and uncover ectopic pregnancies that require special care. For the rare cases when the abortion drug fails, they must either perform a surgical abortion or have a backup surgeon on call.
Some gynecologists and family practitioners in regions where abortion access is limited are showing interest. Forty attended mifepristone training at the Women's Health Center of Duluth, Minn. Nobody knows, however, how many of the physicians then ordered the drug.
The key may be how many women ask for it, says Steven Tamarin, a New York City family practitioner who has never performed abortions because he's not a surgeon. Yet he has referred so many women to abortion facilities that he plans to offer the abortrion drug next month -- but only to his regular patients.
Regardless of where women get the abortion drug, what can they expect? It depends on where they get it. Mifepristone blocks the action of progesterone, vital for an unborn child to develop. A second drug, misoprostol, causes a miscarrige and the explusion of the now-dead unborn child. Studies show the combination fails at least five percent of the time and serious bleeding is a very real side effect. Searle, the maker of the second drug, is on record as opposing its use in abortions because of health risks and dangers.
The FDA instructs women to swallow three mifepristone tablets, return two days later to swallow two misoprostol tablets, and return again within two weeks to see if the abortion was complete or failed.
But many abortion facilities plan to have women swallow one mifepristone tablet and carry misoprostol home where, two days later, they'll insert it vaginally. Then they'll make one return visit to see if the abortion was complete or failed. Many have concerns that these lenient standards will hurt many women.
Most state abortion laws also apply to the abortion drug, so timing of taking it must take into account waiting periods and parental notification requirements.