General Information / History / Stats / Types

RU-486: Basic Information

RU-486: The "abortion pill,"

RU486…destroys the conceptus by interrupting implantation because of interference with the hormonal environment of the implanting embryo. (Keith Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 6th ed., Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Comp. 1998]

RU 486 is a drug which is being used as part of a regimen of drugs to cause an abortion. It can be used up to about 46 days of pregnancy.  The human embryo's heart begins to beat at about 18-25 days after fertilization. 

The RU 486 chemical abortion procedure requires the administration of two potent drugs. The first drug, RU 486, is a powerful steroid which blocks the action of the female hormone progesterone. As a result, the tiny developing human being literally starves to death as the nutrient lining of the womb sloughs off. The secondary drug, (Cytotec) misoprostol, causes muscular contractions of the uterus to expel the dead human.

Prolonged excessive bleeding, severe cramps, and diarrhea are some of the common side effects of the RU-486 abortion procedure. As many as 82 percent of patients reported painful contractions with bleeding continuing anywhere from ten days to six weeks. One to two percent of women bled so severely that surgical intervention is required to stop the bleeding. Some women have required blood transfusions. Potential exists for RU-486 to cause severe disabilities in babies who survive the abortion, to injure and kill women, and to potentially harm a woman's subsequent offspring. During trials in the United States, one woman in Iowa nearly bled to death. Another has died.  Often, the RU 486 abortion procedure does not result in a complete abortion and the women must still undergo a surgical abortion. In Wisconsin trials, 14% of chemically induced abortions were incomplete; if this happens, a surgical abortion must follow.

The RU 486 abortion procedure requires 3 to 4 visits to a doctor's office. Fifty percent of the time, the woman does not abort in the doctor's office.  She is left to deal with the remains of her child.

Failed attempts in other countries to induce abortion using an ulcer drug called misoprostol may be causing an epidemic of birth defects around the world. Misuse of the drug is increasingly common as it is improperly used as part of the RU 486 abortion drug process.

In Colombia, Brazil and the Philippines, the drug is readily available. An informal survey by the British magazine New Scientist has also revealed that abortions with the drug are taking place in the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Spain, Nigeria, South Africa and Indonesia.

In Britain and the US, those dispensing the abortion drug RU-486 also give misoprostol to induce contractions to expel the dead unborn child, although it is not licensed for this purpose. Searle, the maker of misoprostol, has condemned its use in chemical abortions methods.

Searle, a unit of Pharmacia Corp. sent a letter to doctors last year warning that misoprostol has been approved only to prevent ulcers caused by aspirin and similar drugs, not to help induce abortion. They warned women would face severe medical problems if the drug was misused as a part of the RU 486 chemical abortion process. It is legal, however, for doctors to prescribe FDA-approved drugs for unapproved uses — so called "off label" use.

The Searle letter noted: "Serious adverse events reported following off-label use of Cytotec in pregnant women include maternal or fetal death; uterine hyperstimulation, rupture or perforation requiring uterine surgical repair, hysterectomy or salpingo-oophorectomy; amniotic fluid embolism; severe vaginal bleeding, retained placenta, shock, fetal bradycardia and pelvic pain."

Taking misoprostol on its own only induces abortions about 40 per cent of the time, so many babies are born after failed abortion attempts. Several studies in Brazil, where up to 75 per cent of abortions involve misoprostol, suggest the drug causes birth defects such as fused joints, growth retardation and a condition known as Möbius syndrome, which is characterised by paralysis of the face.

One recent study found that out of 93 children with defects associated with Möbius syndrome, 34 percent of those infants had been exposed to misoprostol, compared with just 4.3 per cent of the 279 infants in a control group.

Another revealed that 49 percent of infants born with Möbius at seven hospitals in Brazil had been exposed to misoprostol, whereas only 3 percent of 96 infants born with neural tube defects had been exposed to the drug.

"I think [these results] are real. Statistically they are highly significant," says Fernando Vargas of the University of Rio de Janeiro, who took part in both studies.

In the USA, about 6 percent of abortions were performed using RU-486 in the first several months after it was "fast-lane" approved by the FDA. More than 37,000 abortions were performed using mifepristone, RU-486, in the first six months of 2001. [AGI study, 15Jan03; Jrnl Star News Service, FRC News, June/July2003]