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2 more RU 486 deaths trigger renewed calls for suspension of controversial drug

WASHINGTON (BP)–Two more women in the United States have died after taking the abortion drug RU 486, once again prompting calls for suspension of its sale.

The United States Food and Drug Administration announced March 17 it had been informed verbally by Danco Laboratories of the deaths. Danco, which markets the drug in this country, made no public statement, and the FDA said it did not know the causes of the deaths.

At least seven women have died in the United States after using the two-step drug regimen since RU 486 went on the market in September 2000. The FDA announced in July 2005 four California women who underwent chemical abortions had died from an uncommon and lethal bacterial infection known as Clostridium sordellii. The FDA is helping convene a workshop May 11 in Atlanta for the purpose of drafting an agenda for research on the infection.

Critics of RU 486 said more drastic action needs to be taken.

The workshop is “too little and too late” for the mothers who died and their families, said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R.-Md., sponsor of a bill to suspend sale of RU 486 while the FDA conducts a review of its approval for sale. “How many more women must die or be injured before Congress acts to protect American women’s lives and health from an irresponsible company and a timid FDA?”

Sen. Jim DeMint, R.-S.C., sponsor of the Senate version of Bartlett’s bill, said, “A workshop to talk about ways to study this problem will only delay action. It is simply not enough. This drug should never have been approved, and it must be suspended immediately.”

Critics contend the FDA rushed to get RU 486 on the market before President Clinton left the White House.

Southern Baptist pro-life leader Richard Land, who worked to prevent the introduction of the drug into the United States, told Baptist Press, “RU 486 has proven to be a killer not only of unborn children but of their mothers in countries around the world. It has clearly been the case ever since this drug was allowed on the market that some mothers who take this abortifacient will die, and their babies will always die. This drug should never have been licensed for marketing in the United States.”

Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, reiterated his call for Congress to approve suspension of RU 486. He also said, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the grieving family members of these latest victims of RU 486.”

At least 12 women outside the United States have died after using the abortion drug, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

RU 486, also known as mifepristone, is used as the first part of a process normally occurring in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Mifepristone causes the lining of the uterus to release the embryonic child. A second drug, misoprostol, is taken two days after mifepristone and causes the uterus to contract, expelling the baby.

The FDA’s approved regimen calls for taking both doses orally, but at least some abortion doctors have used misoprostol vaginally. All four women who tested positive for Clostridium sordellii after their deaths had been given stronger doses of misoprostol vaginally.

The latest deaths prompted the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the country’s largest provider of abortions, to announce March 17 its clinics would no longer recommend the vaginal use of misoprostol.

So far, Congress has indicated little impulse to get involved in the controversy over RU 486. The House bill has 79 cosponsors, while the Senate version has only 11. The legislation is the RU 486 Suspension and Review Act, H.R. 1079 in the House and S. 511 in the Senate.