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"Understanding Mifepristone" Fact Sheet
What is Mifepristone?
Mifepristone (formerly known as RU 486) is a safe, effective method
for terminating a pregnancy through a medical - rather than a
surgical - abortion. A woman can take mifepristone as soon as
she knows she is pregnant. It is administered orally, is non-invasive,
requires no anesthesia, and bears no risk of infection. Also known
as the "abortion pill," mifepristone is approved as a
method of early abortion within the first 7 weeks of pregnancy in
the United States. It is used up to the 9th week of pregnancy in
the United Kingdom.
How Does Mifepristone Work?
After a counseling session and an exam, a patient takes three 200
mg mifepristone tablets which block the effects of progesterone,
cause the uterus to shed its lining, and expel the embryo. If the
abortion does not occur within two days, the patient takes misoprostol
to induce the expulsion of the embryo. A follow-up visit is necessary
after two weeks to confirm that the abortion has been completed.
A surgical abortion is required in the case of an incomplete medical
abortion, which occurs in less than 5% of cases. The combination
of mifepristone and misoprostol is more than 95% effective in terminating
a pregnancy within the first 7 weeks.
Mifepristone is Safe and Effective
Mifepristone has been used safely and effectively by over one million
women since 1988. It is even safer than (the already extremely safe)
surgical abortion and has minimal side-effects. Mifepristone has
symptoms similar to those associated with a miscarriage, such as
cramping, heavy bleeding, nausea, and diarrhea. Providers can help
manage the side effects and address possible complications. According
to a 1998 study by the Population Council, 96% of women who used
mifepristone said they would
recommend it to others.
FDA Approval of Mifepristone: Victory for Women's Health
Mifepristone was developed in France and was first approved for
use there in 1988. Twelve years later, in September 2000, the FDA
approved mifepristone for sale in the US under the brand name Mifeprex.
Mifepristone is now available in most of the European Union, China,
Taiwan, Tunisia, Ukraine, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa, and
Russia as a method of early abortion. Medical abortion with mifepristone
offers women more privacy than surgical abortion and allows women
greater control in ending a pregnancy. In addition, mifepristone
has the potential to expand access to safe, legal abortion in the
US since many doctors who do not currently perform surgical abortions
say they would administer mifepristone. Currently, 86% of US counties
do not have an abortion provider, leaving too many women with no
safe or legal options for terminating an unintended pregnancy.
Mifepristone Has Other Possible Medical Uses
Initial studies show mifepristone has the potential to treat some
types of breast cancer, uterine fibroid tumors, ovarian cancer,
endometriosis, depression, meningioma, and Cushing's syndrome,
among other diseases. However, anti-abortion politics has brought
mifepristone research for non-abortion indication, until very recently,
to a virtual standstill. Increased funding is necessary to expand
research and further develop other possible uses of mifepristone.
Women Need Increased Access to Mifepristone
Unfortunately, many of the same obstacles to obtaining a surgical
abortion exist with mifepristone, such as cost, distance of clinics,
lack of providers, and anti-abortion laws and policies. Often because
of misconceptions about mifepristone and pressure from anti-choice
groups, many doctors, clinics, and college health centers that are
qualified to provide medical abortions, do not offer mifpristone.
The FDA requires that mifepristone be administered by a doctor who
can accurately date a pregnancy, diagnose an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy,
and provide surgical intervention or a surgical referral if the
medical abortion fails.
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