July 2, 2001 -- This summer, the next time you open a copy of People or Self magazines, among the ads for cars and make-up, running shoes and deodorant, you may notice an ad for Mifeprex -- aka: the abortion pill, RU-486. The ads are part of a campaign by the National Abortion Federation to direct interested women to a toll-free number for more information on the newest -- and very controversial -- abortion option.
"We have received a great deal of calls from women since the FDA approved mifepristone this past fall. There is a great need for education about this option, so our hope is that by running a campaign, women will find out more about mifepristone and how they can access it," Stephanie Mueller, director of Public Policy for the National Abortion Federation, a professional group representing approximately 400 abortion providers, tells WebMD.
The FDA approved Mifeprex in September. Along with misoprostol -- an older drug already approved for treating ulcers -- it is part of a two-drug regimen that can be used to terminate pregnancies of up to seven weeks. The drug combination has been available in Europe for 12 years, but was stalled for many years in the U.S. approval process because of the continuing controversy surrounding abortion in general.
The ad starts running this month in People and Self magazines and will appear in 11 other national magazines -- including Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan Glamour, Fitness, and Essence -- through November. Only Redbook has declined to run the ad. The National Abortion Federation says it believes the campaign will reach almost 70% of women aged 18-49.
In anticipation of the interest generated by the ad campaign, the National Abortion Federation has added hotline operators and extended their hours. "We do believe we will receive more calls from women as a result of this campaign. We also have been receiving calls from physicians who are anxious to find out how they can offer this option to their patients," says Mueller.
Those on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate are pleased to see the ad.
"I think it is going to provide useful, probably valuable, information for women who feel they need to make a choice that they can then bring to their healthcare provider," Paul Blumenthal, MD, the medical director of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, tells WebMD.
"Any advertising that a well-respected group like [the National Abortion Federation] can do would certainly be helpful because it is a very important reproductive health option and women need to know about it," says William Lutz, deputy director of communications at NARAL, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. "Magazines are obviously a great venue for educating women about this option."
But anti-abortion organizations are far from enthusiastic.
"We think it is a disservice to women," National Right to Life Committee spokeswoman Laura Echevarria tells WebMD. "We know RU-486 caused one woman in Iowa almost to bleed to death. We know the drug is imported from China from a company that has been cited by the FDA for several violations; and we know that the drug has potential to be very dangerous."
Echevarria also says that the campaign is an attempt to raise interest in a drug that isn't selling well and notes that because it isn't a pharmaceutical ad, which would be regulated by the FDA, none of mifepristone's side effects have to be listed. "They are not disclosing the pitfalls of RU-486," she says.
Not so, counters Mueller. "We know that those who are opposed to choice have been already putting out inaccurate information about the option; we know that they are trying to scare women and tell women it is an unsafe option when in fact the overwhelming evidence to date is quite the opposite," she says. "That is part of why we want to ensure there is accurate information by running our campaign."
"We know that the majority of Americans support a woman's right to choose, and we know that the support for choice is greater earlier in the pregnancy," says Mueller. "So Americans do support the availability of this option and ... women are finally able to access it after years of political game- playing. When they are making decisions about an unintended pregnancy, women have a right to accurate information about all of their reproductive healthcare options."