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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Medical Moment: Abortion pills used in the U.S.

According to Planned Parenthood clinics research shows that a fourth of American women getting early abortions last year did so with drugs rather than surgery, statistics show, as a new study reported improved safety in using the so-called "abortion pill." The procedure, which works during the first nine weeks of pregnancy, involves swallowing Mifeprex, known chemically as mifepristone, at a doctor's office. Originally known as RU-486, the pill causes an embryo to detach from the uterine wall. A second pill, misoprostol, is used 24 to 48 hours later to cause contractions and push the embryo out of the uterus.Use has risen steadily, even though manufacturer Danco Laboratories LLC of New York hasn't promoted it and the drug can only be obtained at a clinic or doctor's office, not through a pharmacy. Sales rose 16.5 percent last year, when about 184,000 American women used Mifeprex.

Originally, the procedure involved inserting the misoprostol pill into the vagina where the medicine was absorbed. But by the end of 2005, four American women and one Canadian had died of a rare bacterial infection afterward, spurring concern among providers and criticism by abortion opponents. In April 2006, Planned Parenthood told its 300 clinics offering the procedure to instead have patients put the misoprostol pill in their mouth and let it dissolve.Some clinics also began providing a week's course of antibiotics to avoid infection; the others tested women and treated any with sexually transmitted diseases. In 2008, all the clinics started giving patients antibiotics.

87 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider, researchers encourage some primary care doctors to offer abortion using the pills.

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