The GW Medical Center is considering making available mifepristone, also known as RU-486, or the abortion pill, to patients seeking an abortion. If approved, the medication would be available to all patients, including GW students. Everyone deserves access to the safest, most up-to-date medical technology available – including RU-486. But in the case of abortion, that technology comes with significant risks and responsibilities.
The idea of a medical abortion – one that requires no surgery and can take place largely at the patient’s home using pills – is a concept that the American medical community has wrestled with for nearly a decade. Some say the process of abortion by pill is too easy, too void of the physical discomfort of a surgical procedure. Many opponents of RU-486 insist making the drug widely available, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has done, will lead to a glut of abortions as women begin widespread use of the pill for birth control.
But this extreme, slippery slope argument does not take into account the very real side effects of a medical abortion, which include intense cramping and heavy bleeding. Medical abortion is not as simple as it sounds.
The procedure actually involves two drugs, one that terminates the pregnancy and one that expels the excess lining of the uterus that builds up when a woman is pregnant. Taking only one pill and not following up with the second can result in serious medical complications including possible toxic shock and, in extreme cases, death. Although the likelihood of such an outcome is small, medical abortions can have adverse consequences.
Any abortion carries the psychological pain of knowing a pregnancy that could have resulted in a child is over. The would-be parents have to face the psychological, moral and social consequences of their decision for the rest of their lives. With this reality in mind, no one – students included – can afford to consider abortion an easy process or use it as a method of birth control. The stakes are simply too high. Men and women must still use birth control pills, condoms and other contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
But no contraceptive is completely reliable or totally safe. For those instances where responsible adults find themselves in an untenable situation, pregnant and incapable of raising a child, the effected women deserve the option of a non-invasive, medical abortion.