The history of world’s first abortion pill

Since more than two decades when the first abortion tablet was introduced, there have been various debates between anti-abortion and pro-choice groups regarding its usage and ethics. In 1988, when the world’s first abortion pill, RU-486 was approved and introduced in France, its usage has been restricted in various parts of the world. The political and social movement that this medication evoked in liberalization of women’s reproductive rights has been documented across decades.

History of the first approved pregnancy cancellation tablet

Before the introduction of pregnancy termination pills, abortion was already a subject of heated debate among various groups. As abortion was and in some countries still is, only available in cases of rape/incest assault, potential threat to the woman’s or child’s life or mental health etc. Only a few decades ago was it made available (in some parts of the world) for all women who wish to go through the procedure. As it was made available, slowly but surely access has become easier; now you can buy RU-486 abortion pill online as well as other medicines such as Mifepristone, Misoprostol and brands such as Mifeprex and Cytotec respectively.

The road to access however was not paved easily. Here are some of the milestones and hurdles, RU 486 had to go through to be accepted universally.

The invention

A French pharmaceutical company called Roussel-Uclaf developed the first abortion pill to be approved in the year 1980. It was named as RU 486, now popularly known as Mifepristone. In the year 1983, the Food and Drug administration issued a permit to the Population Council to conduct testing of RU486 as an early pregnancy termination method. Finally, in 1988, the RU-486 was approved in France although distribution of the pill was halted due to protests. The French Minister of Health, however, ordered the company to return the product to the market; while anti-abortion groups threatened to boycott the company.

The intervention

Due to tremendous pressure from the U.S government (Bush administration) the FDA banned the importation of the pill for personal use. Due to increasing protests the company issued a notice stating that it won’t distribute the drug outside France. Many leading scientists however came forward and testified before the Congress that the FDA ban had interfered and hindered beneficial research on its various use such as treatments for uterine tumors, cancer, HIV and inducing labor.

An American woman, Leona Beneten challenged the FDA ban when the U.S Customs seized the drug from her while returning from Europe in 1992; but the US Supreme Court denied the FDA to overrule the ban and refused to listen to her case.

A second hearing

During his administration, President Clinton inferred and asked the FDA to re-examine the ban; thus a new application for RU-486 was submitted. Clinical trials were then held involving 2,100 women after the French company passed the patent rights for RU 486. In 1996, the FDA officially approved RU-486 as an effective and safe early pregnancy termination method along with the use of the second pill misoprostol to expel pregnancy parts.

Further delay

Even though the FDA approved the pill in September 1996, they noted that further experimentation and tests were required before its manufacturing and labeling process. In February 1997, the European drug manufacturer cancelled its contract with the U.S Population council further delaying its introduction in America.

Additionally, an amendment to a bill was passed that banned the FDA from holding trials and approving any abortion medication in 1998. In the same year, the Clinton administration opposed this bill and the ban was deleted.

In February 2000 the FDA postponed the approval of RU 486 until queries about its manufacturing and distribution were solved. Finally, in the same year, it was approved as a safe and efficient way of early pregnancy cancellation within 49 days and was officially introduced in the U.S.

Since its acceptance, control over its access is incredibly eased. You can easily buy RU 486 online or at a local drug store with a doctor’s prescription, a stark difference compared to the situation decade earlier.

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