Abortion Pill: Facts About RU-486

The “abortion pill” isn't a contraceptive. Used at 5 to 7 weeks, RU-486 kills an unborn baby whose heart has already begun to beat.


What is RU-486, the “abortion pill”?

RU-486 is a chemical compound that, taken in pill form, can induce abortion in women up to nine weeks pregnant.

RU-486 is also known by its generic name, mifepristone, and by Mifegyne, the name under which RU-486 is marketed in Europe. "Mifeprex" is the name under which it is to be sold in the United States, though it will also be marketed as the "Early Option" pill.


The FDA declared RU-486 "safe" and "effective." Is it really?

It certainly isn’t safe for the baby, who suffocates or starves to death. And it strains credulity to label a drug that puts perfectly healthy women in the hospital and may not work nearly a quarter of the time "safe" or "effective."

What other physical side effects are common with the abortion pill?

Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and painful cramping are quite often part of the package, and sometimes in clinical trials were themselves severe enough to put women in the hospital. Less frequent, but potentially more serious, are side effects such as infection or heart palpitations.

RU-486 isn't safe or easy.

Heavy bleeding, nausea, vomiting, and painful uterine contractions are common features of a process TIME magazine calls "painful, messy, and protracted." About 2% of women taking this pill hemorrhage, and more than 1 in 100 require hospitalization. An Iowa woman took RU4-86 and lost nearly 3/4 of her blood and likely would have died without emergency surgery.


RU-486 isn't simple or convenient.

At a minimum, the RU-486 procedure involves two drugs and three trips to the doctor's office over a two-week period. For 4–5% of women, the pills don’t work, making them return for surgical abortions.

How does RU-486 work?

RU-486 is an artificial steroid that interferes with the action of progesterone, a hormone crucial to the early progress of pregnancy. Progesterone stimulates the proliferation of the uterine lining which nourishes the developing child. It also suppresses normal uterine contractions, which could dislodge the child implanted and growing on the wall of the mother's womb.

RU-486 fills the chemical receptor sites normally reserved for progesterone, but does not transmit the progesterone signal. Failing to receive that signal, a woman's body shuts down the preparation of the uterus and initiates the normal menstrual process. The child, deprived of necessary nutrients, starves to death. The baby detaches and is swept out of the body along with the decayed uterine lining.

How long does a typical RU-486/PG abortion take and how many steps does it involve?

An RU-486/PG induced abortion can take days, weeks, or never happen at all. It typically involves three (or more) visits to the doctor's office over a two-week period.

In her first visit, a woman is "counseled," given a physical examination, perhaps an ultrasound, and if there are no obvious contraindications (common red flags such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heavy smoking, allergies, etc.) that could make taking the drug deadly or dangerous for her, she is given the RU-486 pills, which she takes in the presence of the abortionist.

Two days later, during a second visit to the doctor's office, she is given the prostaglandin, which she takes orally or has inserted vaginally. Gradually, as the drug begins to take effect, she experiences powerful, painful uterine contractions which begin to work to expel the baby.

In U.S. trials, about half (49%) aborted during the four hours they spent waiting in the doctor's office following the administration of the prostaglandin. An additional 26% aborted sometime over the next 20 hours, on the bus ride home, at work, in the shower, etc. The rest who aborted did so at some point during the following two weeks. Between 8% and 23% (depending on how many weeks pregnant the mother was) never completely aborted or didn't abort at all using the drugs.

A third visit some 14 days from the woman's initial visit allows the doctor to confirm whether or not the abortion has been completed. If it hasn’t, the abortionist will encourage the woman to undergo a surgical abortion to guard against the possibility that she will give birth to a child who may have been injured by the drugs.

Is this the "morning after" pill I've heard so much about?

No. Those pills operate in a different way and during a different time frame than RU-486.

Morning after pills, or "emergency contraception," or “Plan B,” are essentially very high, multiple dosages of birth control pills taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse.

While there have been some limited tests of RU-486 as a morning after pill, with mixed results, the only purpose for which the U.S. sponsor has sought government approval is for use to abort a confirmed pregnancy weeks after the baby has already attached himself or herself to the uterine wall.

What is the baby like at this time?

During the time frame that RU-486 is operative, the baby is undergoing a rapid period of development.

It is at about the fifth week of pregnancy (measured from a woman's last menstrual period) that a mother first begins to suspect she is pregnant, so this is likely to be about the earliest that the chemical abortifacient is used. At this point, the child is about three weeks old and approximately 2 mm long (about 1/10 of an inch). Even by this time, however, the baby's nervous system has begun to form and his or her heart is likely to have already begun its first beats. The child's heart will be beating strongly and steadily by the time he or she is just three and a half weeks old.

The effectiveness of the RU-486, (mifepristone) method begins to decline after 49 days, or 7 weeks of pregnancy. By that time, the baby will be five weeks old and will have increased in size to 8 mm, and his or her face, arms, and legs will be distinguishable.

Before the end of the 9th week of pregnancy (7 weeks for the baby), the outer extreme of mifepristone's effectiveness, the child's ears, fingers and toes will have formed and he or she will be 18 mm, or nearly an inch tall, from crown to rump.


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Pregnancy & Family Support

Coastline Women’s Center is an organization committed to help men & women at times of unexpected pregnancies. Coastline Women’s Center offers services such as pregnancy tests, peer counseling, sex health education, abortion recovery, parenting & discipleship classes, a teen purity program and more. Coastline Women’s Center does not perform or refer for abortion, but does offer information about RU486 also know as the abortion pill. CWC has two locations; One in Conway, South Carolina & another in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina but serves any man or woman who needs help.

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