Mifepristone formerly known as RU-486 is one of the most controversial drugs in recent history. It has been called “the abortion drug”. This nickname it tells exactly what it does. It is a drug that you take after you get pregnant which aborts the unborn child. You then go to a clinic or doctor and get checked up and cleaned up if needed. Many anti-abortionists are very mad about the existence and recent legalization of this drug. As of November 14th 2000 the drug became readily available throughout the U.S. Mifepristone has been legal in many countries throughout Europe for many years and has had some controversies surrounding it. It is a relatively new drug so there is still a lot of testing and tweaking to do, but that too is part of the whole controversy involving the drug.
In 1980 Dr. Etienne-Emile Baulieu invented it. It became known as RU-486 throughout North America. France was the first country where the drug was used. In 1988 it was introduced there, where soon after it was withdrew due to death threats. The French government then intervened and forced its distribution. Companies were reluctant to test it in the U.S. because for fear that activists would boycott their products and bomb their laboratories. .
Mifepristone works by blocking the natural progesterone produced by a woman. An understanding of how the menstrual cycle is needed to fully understand what this means. Basically the menstrual cycle can be categorized as a balance between estrogen and progesterone. The estrogen levels fluctuate during this time. The progesterone levels will then rise and if the egg is not fertilized the levels of progesterone as well as estrogen will stop going up. This stop in the rise triggers the lining of the uterus to shed, as well as the other menstrual processes. .
With this knowledge you will now understand what happens when progesterone is blocked. Normally if the egg is fertilized the progesterone levels will rise high above normal. The placenta will produce 300/400 mg a day during pregnancy, as opposed to the 20/30 mg regularly. Since these levels are high the female body will know not to menstruate. Then mifepristone comes along and suddenly blocks all the progesterone. The woman’s body no longer knows that she is pregnant. Suddenly is time to menstruate since the progesterone levels of her body are so low. The uterus then begins to shed the cervix opens and the menstrual process begins. .
All of that happens with the fetus in the mother’s womb. Several days after she has taken the mifepristone pill the woman will need to take a second pill. The second pill is a prostaglandin pill, typically misoprostal. The prostaglandin will cause the cervix to soften and dilate. Contractions of her uterus also begin. The fetus is usually then discharged within a given amount of hours. Sometimes it only takes four hours, for other women up to twenty-four hours. Occasionally surgery is needed to complete the process. She is then held for 4-6 hours to make sure everything went alright. .
The drug is most effective within 7 weeks of conception. After that it becomes even more dangerous. It can still be taken after 9 weeks but is less effective and causes more side effects. Heavy bleeding can usually occur for 8-16 days after the procedure has occurred. Small percentages of those tested so far have needed additional treatment for excessive bleeding. Some even needed transfusions. .
Many of the side effects for this drug are the normal side effects for menstruation. Nausea, diarrhea, weakness, fatigue, and headaches are all common after taking the drug. The other side effect is the bleeding that was mentioned before. Rare cases have been sited on cardiovascular complications. Those women were all smokers. It should also be noted that 2-3% of women have an incomplete abortion after using the drug. And in about 1% of the cases mifepristone fails to cause an abortion all together. .
It is a brand new drug and has lots of testing still until it can be declared “safe”. There has hardly been any testing on long term effects of the drug. It is too new for any research on that. It is an interesting new drug. There is a lot of speculation on other uses for it besides abortion. When taken in small doses it can be used as contraceptive. Researches identify the possible treatment of such things as breast cancer, Cushing's syndrome, endometriosis, glaucoma, meningioma, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, uterine fibroids, and the induction of labor. This “miracle drug” seems like it has an awful lot to offer us. Only time will tell what it really can do.