Controversy In A Pill
Salinas Planned Parenthood to offer RU-486.
Thursday, January 17, 2002
Planned Parenthood of Salinas will soon become the first public health clinic in Monterey County to prescribe RU-486, the controversial abortion pill.
RU-486 is the name given a treatment that includes a series of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, that induce abortion. The pills allow women to undergo the procedure at home.
"The patient has more privacy and more control," says Planned Parenthood''s Eileen Tremain. "She can pick and choose when she takes the drug, and patients like that."
In September 2000, 12 years after French women began using it, the U.S. FDA approved the pill, called Mifeprex, for use in the United States. Private doctors may have been offering the controversial pill in Monterey County since that time-none will say out of respect for their patients'' confidentiality. But, at a cost upwards of $500 for the medication, it has only just become accessible to low-income and uninsured women in Monterey County.
While larger Planned Parenthood clinics in other parts of the state began prescribing RU-486 shortly after it became legal, Monterey County''s Planned Parenthood clinics have been slow to offer the treatment.
The reason for the wait was medical, not political, says Dr. Dorothy Furgerson, medical director for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte.
"We''ve taken it very slowly as we''ve been learning how to use the medication and provide this treatment, Furgerson says. "We''ve had what we considered to be our first wave [of clinics offering non-surgical abortions], and now we''re starting our second wave. We''ve been training the staff, and we''ve secured Natividad Medical Center as our backup," a necessary protocol, due to the five-percent chance that the pills don''t work or complications arise.
The treatment is scheduled to become available in April.
Not everyone is welcoming this treatment to Monterey County.
"It''s an abortive process," says Fr. Ed Kaminski, from the Diocese of Monterey. "It would be considered taking a life."
Kaminski says he worries that the abortion pill will make women less cognizant of ending their pregnancy.
"When we make abortion neater or easier as it were, it can only increase the demand," Kaminski says.
Opting for pills, he says, removes that anxiety.
"Nobody has any anxiety about taking two pills in the morning," he says. "It seems to me that just popping another pill would be a way for taking conscience out of the decision."
It''s neither neat nor easy, counters Furgerson.
"On day one, there may be nausea and vomiting," Furgerson says. "The second drug can cause a lot more side effects, and it could also cause fever and chills. We try to advise people that it''s not like you take a pill and you feel fine."
And unlike surgical abortions, which usually involve a single visit to the clinic, taking the RU-486 drugs require at least three doctor''s visits over a two-week period.
Neither Tremain nor Furgerson are worried about anti-abortion protesters camping outside of the Salinas clinic, which doesn''t provide surgical abortions.
"We haven''t had any protests related to this and that''s one of the nice things about it," says Furgerson. "The woman who''s having this procedure is not easily identifiable. She''s just one of the people coming in on the days when we''re doing pap smears and birth control pills."
"Operation Rescue tends to come through in October," adds, Linda Gray of the Seaside clinic, referring to the anti-abortion protesters who block clinic entrances and wave graphic signs of bloody fetuses. "They come and protest on North Main Street, and we don''t even offer abortions here."
"Since people have been hearing about [RU-486] for quite a while, I think they are accepting the fact that it''s a medical benefit for women and to not offer it would not make sense," Gray says.
Choice Medical Group clinic in Salinas, another public health clinic that offers affordable surgical abortions, has no plans to prescribe RU-486 in the foreseeable future, according to a spokesperson.