The FDA waded into the abortion debate today when it announced looser guidelines for how doctors can perform chemical abortions using a combination of two drugs. RU-486 blocks progesterone receptors and, when followed by misoprostol, can induce an abortion in early pregnancy. This two-pill system is known as mifepristone and about 25 percent of all abortions are done this way, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
In 2000, the FDA issued rules about chemical abortions that have turned out to be more stringent than most current medical guidelines. This has lead some states to try and use the old guidelines as a way to further limit access to the drugs. So the FDA changed their rules, making them align closely with current medical knowledge, effectively closing this loophole.
Now, under the new rules, women only need to make two trips to see a doctor (down from three, in most states). It also increases the timeframe in which the drugs can be used, from 49 to 70 days after the last period. Lastly, it reduces the dosage of mifepristone from 600 milligrams to 200, as many doctors said the higher dose led to unnecessary side effects.
Years ago I worked as a rape crisis counselor and part of my job was sitting with women as they took the two-pill combo. Women who have been raped have just as much chance of becoming pregnant as any other woman, and carrying a baby under those circumstances can be, understandably, devastating. There were two times I witnessed horrific side effects from the pills, ranging from non-stop vomiting, a fever and infection to crazy amounts of bleeding and clots. One time we had to take the woman directly to the ER for treatment. It ended up being just one more painful part of an incredibly painful experience, and I wished desperately that there were a better way to help them, where the chemicals weren't so harsh. And, apparently, they didn't have to be.
I'm not the only one who's relieved. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also approves of the changes, saying in a statement that it was “pleased" that the updated FDA-approved regimen for mifepristone "reflects the current available scientific evidence and best practices.” Planned Parenthood called this a victory, especially for women in Ohio, Texas and North Dakota. But while the FDA may have won this round, don't expect the war to die down anytime soon.
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