Safer chemical abortions? Yeah, right.

Evidence from Australia undercuts claims about the safety of RU486.
Brendan Malone | 8 June 2011
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Apparently Orson Welles once quipped: “I drag my myth around with me”. Based on the most recent news about the RU486 abortion drug (also known as Mifepristone, Mifegyne or Mifeprex) one can’t help but sense that the proponents of RU486 abortions are going to have to start dragging their myths around with them if they wish to continue maintaining a staunch support for increased availability and use of RU486.

A research survey conducted in Australia has found that RU486 chemical abortions are actually more likely to end problematically for women than surgical ones are. The study of 7000 abortions carried out in Australia in 2009 found that 3.3 per cent of women using RU486 had later turned up at emergency departments to seek treatment for problems, whereas only 2.2 per cent of women who had undergone surgical abortions had done so.

The survey also found that 5.7 per cent of women undergoing early medical abortions using drugs had to be admitted to hospital for post-operative treatment, whereas only 0.4 per cent of women undergoing surgical abortions had need to do so.

This survey’s bad news about RU486 was actually foreshadowed last October with the release of other statistics from the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia, which revealed that 110 cases of "adverse effects" were reported in 2009 by doctors authorised to prescribe RU486 in Australia. These adverse effects included the retention of placental remains and other “products of conception” -- a clinical euphemism for “human fetal remains”.

The information released by the Therapeutic Goods Administration also revealed that there were another 14 Australian cases where RU486 had failed and subsequent surgical abortions were carried out to complete these botched chemical abortions.

Also recently came the tragic news that RU486 has been linked to yet another female death, this time involving a 16-year old Portuguese girl. According to ANSAmed, the girl died as a result of a septic shock caused by Clostridium Sordellii, an infection that until now had only been diagnosed in abortion drug related deaths in the United States. The 16-year-old’s death was announced at the 21st European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, which was held in Milan last month.

The truly tragic death of this young Portuguese girl (which, as stated above, is not the first one) provides yet more ammunition against the current attempts to have RU486 made more widely and easily available to women and girls -- something that the NZ Family Planning Association has been trying to do for several years now here in New Zealand.

You see, apart from it’s quick and straightforward nature, the other key selling point that is constantly touted by the advocates of RU486 abortion is the claim that early chemical abortions are far safer than later surgical ones. This mantra of “increased safety” is now looking more and more to be a claim that is completely without merit.

Unless there has been some major methodological flaw in the recent Australian survey showing a greater incidence of emergency department visits and post-operative hospital treatments after RU486 use, it would seem almost certain that RU486 advocates no longer have much of a leg to stand on when they suggest that the drug is a safer alternative to surgical abortion.

This point becomes even more salient when you consider that its advocates regularly talk about wider availability of RU486 being of greatest benefit to women in rural or remote areas, where hospital based abortion services are not readily available. Based on the latest Australian data, it seems that these are the very women who would be at greatest risk if they were to use this method, due to the fact that emergency hospital care wouldn’t be easily accessible to them should they experience any complications.

These latest and very serious challenges to the safety of RU486 abortions also raise major red flags in relation to the issue of abortions carried out on young girls without parental knowledge or consent. This issue raised its head here in New Zealand recently when one of our large Sunday papers ran a lead front page story about a New Zealand mother who was angry and upset about the fact that her 16-year-old daughter’s high school had procured an abortion for the girl without the mother’s knowledge or consent.

If the proponents of RU486 abortion get their way, its availability and use will become far more common and widespread, which means that any abortion taking place without parental knowledge or consent could involve the use of RU486. This would mean that not only would we have secret abortions on young girls taking place, but they would now be secret abortions involving risky drugs.

What happens to a young girl who has one of these secretly procured abortions on a Thursday or Friday, and then begins to suffer RU486 complications over the weekend when she has no school counsellor to seek out for help?

The prospect of a secret abortion ending in the death of a teenager is a truly frightening and horrific one, but we need to face up to the fact that the widespread availability of RU486, coupled with a lack of parental consent laws would be the perfect storm for just such a tragedy to begin occurring on a regular basis.

Brendan Malone is a media spokesperson and educator for the John Paul II Centre for Life in Christchurch, New Zealand. He also runs The Culture Vulture blog.

 

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