Abortion Pill Safe as Surgical Abortion
Study Shows Abortion Pill RU-486 No Riskier to Future Pregnancies Than Surgical Abortion
WebMD News Archive
Aug. 15, 2007 -- The abortion pill RU-486 is no riskier to future
pregnancies than surgical abortion, a U.S./Denmark study shows.
French researchers reported in 2003 that women who had RU-486-induced
abortions -- what doctors call "medical abortions" -- were nearly three
times as likely to suffer ectopic pregnancies.
In ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg attaches outside the uterus,
usually to the fallopian tubes. These "tubal pregnancies" do not result
in live births and can affect a woman's future fertility.
To see whether RU-486 really increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy -- or
other risks to future pregnancies -- U.S. National Institutes of Health
researcher Jun Zhang, MD, PhD, and colleagues looked at Denmark's extensive
They compared 2,710 women who had an RU-486 abortion to 9,104 women who had
a surgical abortion.
The bottom line: Women who used RU-486 had no increased risk of ectopic
pregnancy, miscarriage, preterm birth, or low-birth-weight babies when they
eventually decided to have a baby.
"By now, probably more than 5 million women worldwide have had RU-486
abortions," Zhang tells WebMD. "More than half of women seeking early
abortion use this method. So this is a very significant finding about the
safety of this treatment."
Jean Bouyer, PhD, of the French Institute of Health and Medical Research,
led the earlier study linking RU-486 to ectopic pregnancy. Bouyer says the
Zhang study does not prove that RU-486 is safe -- just that it is as safe as
other kinds of abortion.
"Their reasoning is indirect," Bouyer told WebMD via email. "No
difference was found between medical and surgical abortion. Surgical abortion
is 'known' to be safe, thus medical abortion is safe, too."
But Zhang and colleagues say it is simply not accurate to directly compare
women who have had abortions with women who have never had an abortion. These
women differ in many respects that affect future pregnancies, including
socioeconomic status, smoking status, and other health-related conditions and
Zhang notes that the Bouyer study included only 24 women who had only
"When you have such a small number, you always have a possibility the
finding is by chance," Zhang says.
Bouyer defends the study, which was designed not to look at the question of
RU-486 safety but to find out possible risk factors for ectopic pregnancy.
"The definite interpretation of the relationship between abortion and
ectopic pregnancy -- if any -- remains somewhat unclear to me," Bouyer
Zhang and colleagues report their findings in the Aug. 16 issue of The
New England Journal of Medicine.