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Bill Introduced to Restrict Use of the Abortion Pill

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"A lot of members, who might otherwise vote for such things as a ban on partial-birth abortions, have clear trouble with telling the FDA what to do," explained Rep. Rosa DeLauro, (D-Conn.).

And some members of Congress would be deterred from voting for the proposed bill because the drug also is being tested and used for the treatment of breast cancer, brain tumors, and other illnesses, she said.

Since becoming available in November, about 100 abortion clinics have begun offering Mifeprex to patients, according to the National Abortion Federation, which represents approximately 400 clinics nationwide. The drug also is approved in 17 other countries and has been used by more than half a million women in Europe and millions of women in China.

Patients in the U.S. can get Mifeprex only from doctors that have signed an agreement to follow the guidelines set by the FDA. Besides requiring doctors to at least have access to an abortion specialist, those guidelines also require regular checkups to ensure that the treatment worked and that the women who took it did not suffer from excessive bleeding, a complication that occurs in about 1% of patients.

FDA officials say these guidelines were based upon science alone. FDA officials also say the drug was approved under the "fast-track" process because the use of this mechanism gave the agency the ability to control how the drug is prescribed.

But even the potential defeat of this proposed legislation is unlikely to end the debate surrounding Mifeprex's approval. Besides challenging the drug's safety, opponents of the drug also have raised questions regarding Cytotec, a drug that must be combined with Mifeprex to complete the abortion.

The legislation introduced last year aimed to restrict the use of Mifeprex to specialists, such as ob-gyns, who could perform surgical abortions and treat other complications. The measure failed to pass due in large part to the argument that restricting its use to those specialists would be tantamount to its withdrawal and would discriminate against women in rural areas with limited access to specialists.

But supporters and opponents of Mifeprex agree that its widespread availability would make abortion more accessible and more private because women could then end their pregnancies at home rather than travel to an abortion clinic.

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