The FDA's Approval of RU-486

What You Need to Know About Mifeprex, the Abortion Pill

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On September 28, 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the approval of RU-486, the controversial drug that is often referred to as the "abortion pill." RU-486 has long been the topic of heated debate among pro-lifers, pro-choicers, and politicians. 

Over 500,000 women in Europe have used RU-486 since 1988. The approval of mifepristone, which is marketed under the brand name Mifeprex, provides women in the United States with a pharmaceutical option for ending unplanned pregnancies.

 However, physicians who prescribe the drug must be willing to perform a surgical abortion should Mifeprex fail to terminate the pregnancy.

How Is RU-486 Used?

According to rules set by the FDA, the use of RU-486 requires three visits to a physician's office. The drug can only be prescribed by a physician after a human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) test, which measures the specific level of HCG in the blood. (HCG is a hormone produced in the body during pregnancy). Doctors also need to perform a sonogram to confirm and date the pregnancy. RU-486 is approved for use up to the forty-ninth day of pregnancy, or about seven weeks.

Once pregnancy is confirmed, you'll need to return to your physician's office for two doses of medication. First, you'll be given one dose of mifepristone, which will make it impossible for a fertilized egg to remain attached to the lining of your uterus. The second pill, misoprostol, which causes uterine contractions, is taken two days later, and terminates pregnancy anywhere from six hours to one week later.

Both pills are taken in the physician's office.

Later, you must return to your physician for confirmation that the pregnancy was terminated. If the pregnancy is still present, a surgical abortion must be performed.

Possible side effects of RU-486 include uterine cramps, fatigue, nausea, and heavy bleeding.

Most women recover completely within a few hours to a week. As for the cost of the abortion pill, it's comparable to the cost of a surgical abortion procedure, at $300 to $500.

The success rate for RU-486 is 92 to 92.5 percent during the first seven weeks of pregnancy. This leaves a small percentage of women who may require additional surgery after taking RU-486.

If you suspect you may be pregnant and you want to use the abortion pill to terminate your pregnancy, you should contact your physician or an area clinic as soon as possible to discuss your options.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages To RU-486?

The two main advantage of using RU-486 to terminate a pregnancy are its high rate of effectiveness, and the fact that it is far less intrusive and painful than a surgical abortion.

As for the disadvantages, mifepristone may not be an option for women with liver or kidney problems, anemia, diabetes, Rh-negative blood, or those who are overweight. You may also be turned off by the fact that this method requires several visits to the doctor, and may not work if combined with other drugs, such as ibuprofen. And again, side effects can include minor cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding that lasts eight to 10 days.

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