ABC 24 Sept 2013
These are the bare bones of the long coming of “medical” abortion to Australia. The history behind these recent developments is far more complicated – and far from finished.
Together with colleagues, Professor Janice Raymond and Dr Lynette Dumble, I have been researching the RU 486 abortion story since 1988, when what was then called “the French abortion pill” made its debut on the world-stage. As long-term women’s health researchers and supporters of safe abortion, we watched in astonishment as many international women’s health groups uncritically greeted the arrival of this chemical abortifacient. We wondered why the progesterone antagonist RU 486, a largely untested chemical, was hailed as a new “miracle drug” and the “moral right of women.”
The result of our three-year investigation was the book RU 486: Misconceptions, Myths and Morals, published in 1991. We concluded that the “safe-and-effective” mantra that RU 486/PG abortion had acquired was misleading: the adverse effects of the two drugs were unpredictable and dangerous and the research undertaken inadequate. The new “demonising” of suction abortion as “surgical” abortion (conjuring up knives and requiring a general anaesthetic, both wrong) was worrying. We said that the drawn-out and painful process of chemical abortion (our preferred term; but I also use pill abortion or “medical” abortion) was emotionally and physically hard on the women. The abortion process lasts a minimum of three days – when all goes well – but women can bleed up to 6 weeks. Moreover, between 5 and 8% of women need a second abortion when the drugs fail to completely terminate their pregnancy and remaining products of conception need to be removed to prevent an infection. This is a very draining and unpredictable time for women, especially so when compared to the 15-30 minutes a suction abortion takes in the relative safety of a clinical setting. In particular, we worried that because the second drug, the prostaglandin, is taken outside a clinic, the woman’s life would be at risk if she was haemorrhaging excessively and needed a blood transfusion but was away from an emergency clinic.
We concluded that the RU 486/PG abortion had the making of a new wave of DIY backyard abortions which burdened women who had decided they needed an abortion with unnecessary days of agony: haemorrhaging, vomiting, cramping and the well-founded fear of sepsis. We predicted deaths and also wondered why pro-choice activists could not see that this abortion method only benefited pharmaceutical companies and doctors. For the latter, it is much easier to prescribe pills than actually perform an abortion: only die-hard abortionists “like” to do them, while most other doctors perform them out of a sense of duty. We warned that the push for RU 486/PG – especially when it is cheap – could be particularly dangerous for poor and/or Indigenous women.
… To update the events of the past years, in July 2013, we re-issued RU 486: Misconceptions, Myths and Morals, for which I have written an extensive 100-page preface. In my new “Preface” I ask “what is a safe and effective abortion?” and include information on birth defects both drugs can cause, contraindications that are vital for women to observe (such as asthma, epilepsy, kidney and liver disease), and the total lack of any research into long-term health risks (like a woman’s fertility). I include women’s stories of extraordinarily drawn out, scary and painful pill abortions, I mention the 15 FDA-documented deaths of women by 2011
… “Regardless of one’s views on abortion, pushing this drug combo as simple is disrespectful of a woman’s right to know what she might face.” Correct.