If approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the pill will increase the potential for women to take control of the future of their families. It will also mean they can step away from the messy realities of abortion.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s prescription drug advisory committee will consider whether to approve this morning the Merck capsule, which is by far the biggest drug in Merck’s lineup. In February the National Abortion Federation (NAF) asked the FDA to wait until Merck analyzed side effects before considering its safety.
The organization has more than 15,000 doctors on its mailing list and serves 200,000 patients a year with abortion drugs. “Many of our doctors have prescribing privileges in their local hospitals or a partner who works in an OB/GYN office,” the NAF wrote in a letter to the FDA in February.
The kit has not been in use for nearly a decade, since the Supreme Court legalized the procedure in Roe v. Wade, and the new pill, branded MGN69753 — nicknamed “Emma” by Merck — would be its first attempt at replicating that medical procedure. It would reverse the termination of a pregnancy, but in a way that is designed to be noninvasive. Supporters see the new pill as safe, “safe, safe.”
Although scientists and advocates say that the new drug could be life-saving, others argue that there is no proof that the drug will be safe for doctors or their patients. Indeed, an FDA panel of experts has raised concerns that the company may not fully disclose how its drug works.
This option could be a partial blessing for women’s health advocates. Since abortions became legal and recorded, they have always been accessible to women via surgical or medication options. But complications are often high, while treatment costs are also significant. The price to get a pregnancy terminated today is, on average, $325. For this very reason, as many states require women to wait 72 hours between asking for an abortion and taking the abortion pill, the situation has put women on a few dangerous roads.
One study has found that three out of four women experiencing complications were on Medicaid, with three in four requiring hospitalization.
Like any pill, this particular one carries risk. On its side, the more powerful form of the chemical, called mifepristone, causes anesthetic side effects. That kind of side effect can lead to paralysis, blood clots and even death. The drug will work by taking effect when the embryo or fetus has been implanted.
After that point, the women taking the new pill will be able to take a common oral abortion pill without the need for a subsequent surgical procedure, which has helped to reduce the number of women turning to foreign clinics in rural areas. Some say this will make abortion more accessible.
“I am hopeful that this new product will increase access to safe and legal abortions,” said Dr. Stephanie Alwin, medical director of clinic services at Planned Parenthood.
The drug is technically called a progestin-releasing intrauterine device (RIUD), a form of implantation-based abortion. It would be the first such device, which means that it has to be inserted surgically into the uterus but not immediately afterwards, so that the fetus can pass through a small hole in the uterus.
In 1999, the federal court ordered the FDA to allow pills that reversed the effects of an already terminally ill abortion.
This new pill is designed to preserve a pregnancy in part by reversing the process of implantation, which works by shutting down the energy supply inside the uterus. It’s an approach that supporters view as way to increase the availability of what are technically part of the same class of drugs, called mifepristone pills.