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RU-486 -- Dispelling the Myths

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There are two other options that RU-486 opponents could pursue that would lead to its removal from the market. One is that a new Secretary of Health and Human Services could declare RU-486 to be an "imminent hazard" to the public health, which would enable the government to summarily prohibit its sale. The second is that Congress could pass a law prohibiting sales of RU-486. I think both of these courses of action are unlikely, but they're really the only political outlets that the RU-486 opponents have.

Myth #3 -- Any doctor can prescribe RU-486.

Not so. While generally any licensed physician can prescribe any approved drug, the FDA requires that physicians who want to prescribe RU-486 be trained in how to administer it, provide detailed counseling to the patient, and be able to perform or arrange for a surgical abortion should RU-486 fail. In other words, physicians who intend to prescribe RU-486 must seek training.

It remains to be seen how many physicians will seek training and choose to be identified as capable of prescribing the new drug since the politics of abortion remain intense.

Myth #4 -- RU-486 will be less expensive than a surgical abortion.

Perhaps not. Medical costs are variable, but national averages are that a surgical abortion costs $300 and RU-486 will cost about the same. There are also costs of office visits and counseling. It remains to be seen what the ultimate cost is, but it's not likely to be significantly different from the cost of a surgical abortion.

Myth #5 -- RU-486 will be much more convenient than a surgical abortion.

That depends on a number of factors. The reality is that a surgical abortion can be accomplished in a single visit to a clinic or hospital, with follow-up checks as needed. RU-486 requires at least three visits to a physician's office or clinic, spaced over a two-week period. There does not appear to be a major advantage in convenience, at least in terms of numbers of visits to the physician.

In summary, RU-486 certainly provides a new option for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. It also provides a new topic of debate in this political season. Now it's up to physicians to decide whether they want to be trained in how to use it, and it's up to women to decide whether they want to use it.

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