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Medical abortion: a revolution for women's reproductive rights

Jessica Reed
25 October 2007
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Dr. Hilary Bracken, Senior Program Associate with Gynuity Health Project, opened the session titled "Ensuring Women's access to medical abortion in their own communities" declaring that medical abortion (the abortion pill, or RU486) is the most important revolution in women's medical health since the commercialisation of the contraceptive pill. [more...]

Medical abortion induces a termination of pregancy without tools and is also known as a "no touch procedure". The pill contains two medications -mifepristone and misoprostol- which were registered worldwide in the late 90s and were introduced in the WHO's essential drug list in 2005. The pill is now registered in more than 36 countries, with less than 3 million of women using it outside China, and 25 million users in China. Its efficacy is estimated between 92 and 97 percent.

According to data from France, Sweden and the UK, the pill does not increase the number of abortions - it is less expensive than a surgical procedure and demands less staff-time. It is therefore a good incentive for providers, as it reduces overall costs. It would also mean that women with limited access to clinics (e.g women in rural areas) could obtain the abortion pill at their doctors' office - not to mention that the woman can terminate her pregnancy in the privacy of her own home:

"The woman receives the mifepristone pill to take orally. Then 24 to 72 hours later, in the privacy of her own home, she takes the misoprostol medication as directed by the clinic (...). Misoprostol causes contractions resulting in a miscarriage."

However, many pharmaceutical companies do not want to sell the pill locally, especially at a sustainable price. Many stakeholders are equally doubtful about the practice, as it puts abortion in the hands of women, and is therefore considered "threatening" by many.

Related: Study finds home abortion safe, BBC; Is a medical abortion dangerous? Women on Web
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