Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Abortion pill to be
offered in isles

Planned Parenthood will
soon offer the RU-486 pill;
critics say the pill is
unsafe and 'horrific'

By Helen Altonn

Planned Parenthood of Hawaii will begin offering the abortion pill RU-486 as an option to surgery in the next week or two.

The agency, which earlier this month changed its name from Family Planning Centers of Hawaii, has been planning to offer the abortion pill since the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved its use in the United States last September.

Along with the abortion pill, Planned Parenthood will also be offering earlier surgical abortions, starting at five weeks instead of seven, said Barry Raff, executive director. The agency now has ultrasound equipment that is mandatory for medical abortions and will allow for the earlier abortions, Raff said.

RU-486, or mifepristone, must be used before 49 days or seven weeks of pregnancy, he said. Three visits to the clinic or to a doctor are needed for RU-486. The first pill is followed in two days by a drug that causes uterine contractions to expel the embryo. A check-up is needed in two weeks to ensure the abortion is complete.

He said the staff has been trained to do intensive counseling, required for medical abortions, and they are waiting for medications to arrive to begin offering RU-486.

"We have to be sure it is not for a teen who is going to go home and try to maintain confidentiality," he said, since the pregnancy is terminated in the patient's home.

"We're not sure what to expect," Raff said. "We're just happy to be able to offer it for women who want to use it as opposed to the surgical abortion."

Abortion opponents decried the impending introduction of the controversial pill in Hawaii.

Hawaii Right to Life Executive Director John Long called RU-486 unsafe and "horrific."

Long said the pill may be more psychologically devastating to women than the post-abortion syndrome associated with surgical abortion.

He also said Planned Parenthood was motivated by the profits that can be generated by RU-486.

The family planning agency had hoped to start offering the pill much sooner. But, Raff said, "we still will be the first in Hawaii to offer it."

About half of the agency's patients are under 24. One-third are teens with little or no money. Patients have increased over three years, Raff said, with more than 9,500 visits during the past fiscal year.

The introduction of the abortion pill comes at a time of another big change for the agency.

Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood Federation of America reinstated its affiliation with the local agency.

Hawaii had been affiliated with the federation until 1998, when it broke the tie in a dispute over mainland management of local activities.

With the renewed affiliation, Raff said, the staff and health care will not change but there will be additional services.

He said the Planned Parenthood clinics will be reviewed to see if they are in the right places or should be expanded. They are now in Honolulu; Kahului, Maui; and Kona, on the Big Island.

"In some locations, our clinics are not income-producing but provide a service that isn't available," Raff said.

One of the most positive aspects of the Planned Parenthood affiliation is name recognition, he said.

"Nobody knew who Family Planning Centers of Hawaii was, (not) even those who visited us," Raff said.

The Hawaii affiliate also has earned four-year accreditation from the national federation for the first time since 1991, Raff said. From 1994 to 1998, it had only one-year accreditations because of financial and management issues.

The Hawaii affiliate initially was entangled in a turf battle involving the San Diego and San Francisco affiliates.

The San Diego affiliate planned to expand and take over the Hawaii "turf" in competition with the Hawaii program.

To help Hawaii prevent competition over family planning services, the San Francisco affiliate proposed adding the Hawaii centers to its organization.

The controversy was mediated here last August by all parties involved, and it was decided Hawaii would have its own Planned Parenthood affiliate.

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