- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Mifepristone, the much-heralded "abortion pill" approved a year ago this Friday by the Food and Drug Administration, has found lackluster acceptance by American doctors, according to a new survey.

Released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the survey of 790 doctors demonstrated avoidance of a pill that pro-choice forces fought for years to get introduced onto the American market.

Only 6 percent of the 595 gynecologists and 1 percent of 195 family practice doctors surveyed said they prescribed the drug. An additional 16 percent of gynecologists surveyed and 7 percent of family doctors said they may begin offering mifepristone in the coming year.

Mifepristone is the first half of a two-drug regimen that makes up RU-486, the abortion pill. Mifepristone prevents an embryo from attaching to the uterine wall and can be taken through the first 49 days of pregnancy.

The second drug, misoprostol, also known as Cytotec, induces contractions to expel the fetus. Its U.S. manufacturer, Pharmacia Corp., has said Cytotec, which was originally designed as an ulcer drug, should not be used as an abortion drug.

"The availability of mifepristone in this country has not yet significantly increased the number of physicians offering abortions," said Tina Hoff, vice president of public health information at Kaiser. "It has, however, provided women seeking abortions [with] another option."

"It is good news that fewer American women than expected are being exposed to this dangerous drug cocktail, which recently killed a woman in supervised Canadian drug trials," said Laura Echevarria, spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee.

Initial reports indicated that the Canadian woman died of septic shock, but it was not clear if the death had any connection to RU-486.

Reasons cited in the survey for not prescribing the drug include "lack of patient demand," "concerns about protest or violence," "lack of interest in performing abortions," lack of office space to offer medical abortions and "too much political controversy surrounding abortion."

The drug's lack of acceptance is not for the lack of outlets. The National Abortion Federation estimates half its 400 member clinics offer mifepristone, and Planned Parenthood says more than 5,000 women have used it at their 875 member and 128 affiliate clinics.

"Reports from across the country have been very positive and reinforce our commitment to bring this new option to more women," Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt said.

Most physicians (82 percent of the gynecologists and 61 percent of the general practictioners) claim familiarity with mifepristone, although they may not have used the drug. Ninety-two percent of those who were at least somewhat familiar with mifepristone consider it safe, the survey said.

According to Danco Laboratories, which distributes the Chinese-manufactured drug, the District of Columbia and doctors in 45 of the 50 states offer mifepristone. However, 40 percent of the gynecologists and 37 percent of the family doctors polled said they "personally oppose" the drug. Many of them (51 percent of the gynecologists and 33 percent of the general practice doctors) say they refer patients desiring the drug to other physicians.

Two-thirds of American women questioned in a related Kaiser poll said they may have heard of the drug, but they were not sure what it was. Sixty-one percent of women ages 18 to 44 polled thought the drug was emergency contraception or "morning after" pills.

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