Saturday, December 15, 2001

Abortion pill use
low in islands,
agency says

About a dozen women have
used RU-486 since July

By Helen Altonn

Planned Parenthood of Hawaii has not had a big demand for the abortion pill RU-486 since offering it in July as an option to surgery, says Barry Raff, executive director.

He said the agency has used the pill in 11 medical abortions thus far, and another is scheduled, for a total of about a dozen in six months. The agency has had "nowhere near" the demand reported in some mainland areas, he said.

Most women who have used the pill are in their late 20s or 30s and prefer the privacy of their home, he said. "We don't push any option. We just make sure everybody knows the options available."

RU-486, or mifepristone, may be used before 49 days or seven weeks of pregnancy, and three visits to the clinic or to a doctor are required. The first pill is followed in two days by a drug that causes uterine contractions to expel the embryo. A checkup is needed in two weeks to ensure the abortion is complete.

Some women favor it because it does not involve surgery and may be considered a more natural process, Raff said. Others prefer surgical abortion, with one visit to the clinic and a follow-up check, he said.

Diane Baker, lead nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood, said a couple thousand surgical abortions are done annually by the organization for women ranging from 15 to 45 years old.

The RU-486 abortion pill offers women a choice instead of only one way to go, she said.

"It takes us longer. We have to explain the medical side vs. surgical. Many people call," she said. "They think, 'I can just take a pill and I won't be pregnant anymore.' Things aren't that simple."

There are side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea and cramping, Baker said. "Nobody gets all of them. Patients report different side effects."

John Long, Hawaii Right to Life executive director, has called the pill unsafe and "horrific."

He said it may be more psychologically damaging to women than post-abortion syndrome associated with surgical abortion.

Baker said those opting for the abortion pill overall are happy about the procedure but that it is not appropriate for all women. "We have pretty strict criteria."

Planned Parenthood may advise women against RU-486 if it is felt they are not good candidates, she said. "But people more or less rule themselves out."

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