Planned Parenthood, the nation's single largest provider of abortions, has recently engaged in some damage control to mend its image, tarnished by association with the chemical abortifacient RU-486. First some background.
RU-486, the "abortion pill" (chemical name mifepristone and not to be confused with the "morning after pill" Levonorgestrel, an over the counter emergency contraceptive) was approved by the FDA in 2000.
Mifepristone works by blocking the normal functioning of progesterone, a hormone necessary for the maintenance of pregnancy. The immediate consequence is the degeneration of the uterine lining and the blocking of nutrition to the fetus resulting in its death. Mifeprex is used in combination with a prostaglandin called misoprostol which then causes the cervix to dilate, and the uterus to contract and expel its lining and the now-deceased child.
RU-486, we might add, is also the only FDA-approved drug that has as its purpose the death of a living human being.
The drug's approval was forced through by President Clinton's administration, which dubiously approved the drug under a provision of drug law reserved solely for drugs developed to treat "serious or life-threatening illnesses" (of which pregnancy is not).
RU-486 was under intense scrutiny by the House of Representatives' Drug Policy Subcommittee before the Democrats took over the majority in 2006. The Subcommittee reported that as of April of 2006, the FDA acknowledged the deaths of six women associated with the drug, nine life-threatening incidents, 232 hospitalizations, 116 blood transfusions, and 88 cases of infection.
The high infection rate, deaths of otherwise healthy women who took this drug, and the intense scrutiny (at the time) of Congress and the FDA prompted Planned Parenthood, in particular, to change the way it administers the drug.
Tragically, use of RU-486 has slowly been on the rise, and according to the most recent study, accounts for 25 percent of all early abortions (abortions through 9 weeks gestation).
Under the FDA-approved protocol for administering the drug, it must be administered within 49 days gestation; patients are to be given 600mg of Mifeprex to consume at once; they are then to be instructed to return two days later to consume orally 400mcg of misoprostol. Many providers, including Planned Parenthood, deviated from the FDA protocol by extending the use of RU-486 to as long as 56 and even 63 days of gestation, cutting the dose of Mifeprex by two-thirds, and providing patients with misoprostol pills to insert vaginally at home two days later. In 2006, there were two more deaths of women who received RU-486 from Planned Parenthood facilities. For its part, the nation's biggest abortion provider quickly corrected itself to get in line with the FDA protocol. But its image was tarnished.
That brings us to last week's news that Planned Parenthood has sponsored a study which found that the altered regimen (providing antibiotics and administering the drugs orally according to the FDA protocol) causes fewer severe infections in the women taking the drug.
The study was blatantly self-serving for PP, but then again, that doesn't surprise us, does it?
So fewer women are developing infections and other severe health effects, but babies continue to be aborted. That RU-486 accounts for 25% of all early abortions is a sobering and disturbing statistic. And abortion providers are taking advantage of that stat to present this procedure as a "safe," (notwithstanding the lingering dangers) "natural" (because it mimics a natural abortion, or miscarriage) and convenient (do-able "in the privacy of your own home" though in actuality it involves at least 3 visits to the abortion provider).
A convenient, safe, natural way of surmounting the inconvenience of an embryonic human life.
Fortunately, the science of human embryology continues to steer our culture -- and the language we employ to talk about the human embryo -- toward clarity, honesty and truth. Truth on the beginning of human life, and the dangers to women's health in the age of chemical abortions, cash-for-eggs and other schemes, is the only way ahead.
Father Thomas Berg is a priest in the Archdiocese of New York and Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie).