The Abortion Pill

RU486 in Canada


The abortion pill, not to be confused with the Morning After Pill, is commonly known as RU486. It is for a type of medical abortion that is not legal in Canada due to complications resulting from the clinical trials that were held in Vancouver, BC in 2001. The drug trials were suspended following the September 2001 death of a woman participating in the trials, from septic shock due to bacterial infection.(1)

The abortion pill contains a drug called mifepristone which acts by blocking progesterone, a hormone that a woman's body produces to keep her fertilized egg implanted on her uterine wall. The medication creates an artificial decrease in progesterone and causes the uterine wall and the rest of the contents in the womb to shed. After one or two days, another drug called misoprostal is given to the woman to cause contractions and dilate the cervix so that the embryo and uterine lining can be expelled. Sometimes, a follow up surgical abortion procedure is necessary to ensure successful evacuation of the entire pregnancy.(2)

In the US Trials of 2004, the FDA reported 676 "adverse events" among the women who participated. 23% of these events were considered "severe". (3) The complications of this procedure are common among all medical abortion procedures.

Morning After Pill: The morning after pill, also known as emergency contraception, is different than the abortion pill because it is taken before you have confirmed that you are pregnant. It is used after having unprotected sex. The Morning After Pill is legal in Canada but it is not yet fully understood how it works. It is believed the hormones in the pills interfere with the woman's ovulation process which prevents fertilization. (4) If fertilization occurs, it is also possible the the Morning After Pill can make it hard for the fertilized egg to implant correctly in the womb, thus eliminating the pregnancy. (5)


1. S. Schmidt, "Woman's death sparks abortion pill debate," National Post, Sept. 17, 2001, at A13; R.K. O'Bannon, "Woman Dies in Canadian RU486 Trials," available at http://www.kcrtl.org/National_News/RU_486/Woman_dies_in_ru486.htm ; C. McGovern, "Woman Dies in Canadian Abortion-Pill Testing," available at http://www.ru486.org/wiebe2001.html.

2. "Ko, Melody, "What is the difference between the abortion pill and the morning after pill," Office for Science and Society, May 9, 2005, available at http://oss.mcgill.ca/yasked/abortion%20pill.pdf

3. FDA CDER, "Medical Officer's Review of ... Final Reports for the U.S. Clinical Trials Inducing Abortion ...", Nov. 22, 1999, note 8, at 13

4. "Frequently Asked Questions on Emergency Contraception", Public Health Agency of Canada, Retreived on July 18, 2011, Available at: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/std-mts/ec_cu-eng.php

5. "Emergency Contraception", MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, Retrieved on July 18, 2011, Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007014.htm

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