The latest move to try to introduce the abortion drug RU486 into Australia comes when the dangers of RU486 to women’s lives and health are becoming even clearer than in 1996 when the Federal Parliament passed an amendment to the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, proposed by Senator Brian Harradine. The amendment defined “medicines intended for use in women as abortifacients” as “restricted goods” and reserved to the Minister for Health the responsibility for approving the importation, evaluation or listing of any such goods.
Application to import RU486
Dr Caroline de Costa, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at James Cook University has begun the process of applying to import RU486 into Australia for use as an abortifacient drug. Liberal Party MPs including Judy Moylan, Bronwyn Bishop, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, and practising WA GP Mal Washer, Member for Moore, all support ending the ban on RU486.
Ultimately the Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, will have to decide whether to approve the application.
No doubt Mr Abbott will bear in mind the latest information on the dangers of RU486.
At the same time as Dr de Costa is pursuing her application to import RU486 into Australia the Australian Democrats have given notice of an amendment they intend to move to the Therapeutic Goods Act Amendment Bill 2005 when it is debated in the Senate. The effect of this amendment would be to remove the provisions introduced in 1996, taking the decision on RU486 and other abortifacient drugs out of the hands of the Minister and leaving it solely to bureaucrats to determine. There is good evidence that given the political pressures surrounding abortion drugs, bureaucrats are prone to ignoring or minimising the health risks of such drugs. We have seen this with Postinor-2 – the morning after pill.
The Democrat amendment cannot pass unless Mr Howard caves in to pressure from a few Liberals such as Dr Mal Washer, the Member for Moore, who favour abortion. There is no proper reason for the Prime Minister to do so. The 1996 amendments were passed with the support of the Liberal, National and Labor parties. The important social and health issues surrounding RU486 demand scrutiny by the Minister for Health, who is accountable to Parliament and the people, not just by unaccountable bureaucrats.
It is important to understand that RU486 is never administered on its own to cause an abortion. It is a progesterone antagonist that acts primarily to detach the developing child from the lining of the uterus. It is always administered along with misoprostol which acts to cause contractions and expel the child’s body from the uterus.
Deaths from RU486
There have been at least eight deaths.
Dr Jack Wilkie reports on these as follows:
1. The first published case occurred in France, April 1991, but was widely dismissed because it was reported she had all three contraindications to the use of the drug. She had been a heavy smoker, had heart problems and high blood pressure.
2. In September 2001, a Canadian woman died from septic shock eight days after taking the pills. This was a result of a Clostridium infection in the uterus, possibly due to retained parts of the baby. A second woman, 21 years old, sustained a serious heart attack but survived. As a result, the Canadian trials of RU486 were temporarily halted.
3. On September 12, 2001, a 38-year-old woman in Tennessee died five days after taking RU486. She had a tubal pregnancy which, according to a warning from the Food and Drug Administration, RU486 will not abort. The abortion facility apparently failed to make the proper diagnosis, even though they did an ultrasound. According to her boyfriend, they said, “We don’t see any fetus in the uterus, but that is not unusual. This is an early pregnancy.” She returned home and developed severe pain and bleeding, which worsened over several days. She placed multiple calls to the abortion facility, as her condition worsened, but was advised that her symptoms were normal and routine. She was finally hospitalized and received legitimate medical care, but died from massive peritonitis from the ruptured tube. A major malpractice lawsuit was subsequently filed.
4. Holly Patterson, an 18-year-old girl in California, died September 17, 2003, after taking RU486. The Planned Parenthood death center did not educate her on how to administer the medication, did not have her signature on a consent form and failed to report her death as an unusual occurrence. After taking the medication, she returned to a local hospital twice. The first time she was given painkillers and sent home. The second time she went to the hospital she died. The Alameda County, California Coroner’s official autopsy report stated that she died because the drugs did not produce a complete abortion. The retained parts developed a massive systemic infection, septic shock and resulted in death.
5. Rebecca Tell Berg, a sixteen-year-old Swedish girl, died June 3, 2003 from an RU486 abortion. In this case, she apparently received good medical care. She was seven weeks pregnant. One week after being examined by a gynecologist, she returned to the hospital and was given three RU486 abortion pills, a full dose. Two days later she returned and was given two Cytotec pills. After a few hours, she was in severe pain, bleeding heavily and was given pain medication. After being kept in the hospital for eight hours, she passed a “big blob” and was sent home. Days later, still bleeding and in pain, her boyfriend encouraged her to go to the hospital. However, hospital officials told her she could bleed for as long as two weeks, so she stayed home. During this time, a medical professional, inquiring about her condition, made at least one phone call. Eight days after the abortion she was found dead in the shower. A coroner’s report confirmed that Rebecca bled to death. It noted, however, that the doctors had given an appropriate dosage, followed proper procedure and “followed all the rules.”
6,7. The British government, in January 2004, announced that two women had died after taking RU486 for abortions. No details of the deaths or the victims have been given except that they died after taking RU486. The deaths were described as “suspected fatal reactions associated with the use of RU486.” When questioned, the health minister noted there might have been other causes for the deaths, but provided no evidence other than the use of RU486.
8. In November 2004 the US Food and Drug Administration announced that another woman had died from taking RU486.
The FDA said that they had reports of 17 potentially fatal cases of tubal pregnancy that had taken the drug. They noted that heavy bleeding was a problem in 8%, lasting as long as thirty days. They have records of 72 cases needing blood transfusions. They also reported seven near fatal cases of severe sepsis (bacterial infections), which were treated successfully. Rather than take this dangerous drug off the market, which is what they would have done if this had been any other drug except an abortion drug, they have compromised by issuing a revised warning label detailing these potential serious problems.
Other health risks of RU486
On November 15, 2004, the United States Food and Drug Administration reported having received 676 “adverse event” reports concerning RU486 abortions, including 17 ectopic pregnancies, 72 cases where blood transfusions were needed, and 7 serious infections.
In U.S. trials of RU486/misoprostol, at least 99% of patients experienced at least one of the following:
* abdominal pain (cramping) (97%)
* nausea (67%)
* headache (32%)
* vomiting (34%)
* diarrhea (23%)
* dizziness (12%)
* fatigue (9%)
* back pain (9%)
* uterine hemorrhage (7%)
* fever (4%)
* viral infections (4%)
* vaginitis (4%)
* rigors (chills/shaking)(3%)
“More than one adverse event was reported for most patients. … Approximately 23% of the adverse events … were judged to be severe.”
The Cytotec (misoprostol) label contains a “Special Note for Women” which states in part: “Miscarriages caused by Cytotec may be incomplete, which could lead to dangerous bleeding, hospitalization, surgery, infertility, or maternal or fetal death.”
Emotional and psychological reactions
The former chairman of Roussel-Uclaf (the French company which developed RU486), Edouard Sakiz told the French newspaper Le Monde: “As abortifacient procedures go, RU486 is not at all easy to use. … True, no anaesthetic is required. But a woman who wants to end her pregnancy has to ‘live’ with her abortion for at least a week using this technique. It’s an appalling psychological ordeal.”
Dr David van Gend writes (News Weekly, 25 November 2005), “Dr Caroline De Costa claims that chemical abortion with RU486 “contributes hugely to ameliorating a psychologically traumatic process”. I would say it only makes the psychological trauma of abortion worse.
“With standard surgical abortion the mother need never see the baby; she can be asleep at the time. But with RU486 the woman will be vividly aware of the whole abortion process, swallowing the poison herself, acting out a mockery of labour where every spasm speaks of death not life, and wide awake at the time of delivery of a dead baby. Surely this is a recipe for nightmares.
“Why are we so pitiless that we promote this soul-destroying pill as if, in Liberal MP Sharman Stone’s words, it was “beneficial to thousands of women and girls”?
“There is something sick with our culture when a woman uses the parliament to promote abortifacient poisons that were once — like rue and tansy — the province of brothel madams and medieval hags.
“RU486, should any Federal Health Minister give approval for its importation, would be part of this social sickness, not part of the cure.”
Please write to the Hon John Howard, Prime Minister, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600. Urge him to retain the 1996 provisions in the Therapeutic Goods Act which require the Minister for Health to scrutinise any application to import RU486. Stress that this drug would be deadly to Australian babies and dangerous and sometimes deadly to Australian women.