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Byline: Evan Henerson Staff Writer

One year after mifepristone - aka RU-486, aka the abortion pill - became available to the general public, neither anti-abortion nor abortion-rights advocates should claim the controversial pill has significantly altered the map of female sexuality, according to recent survey data.

A survey of women's health-care providers conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that only a few abortion providers were offering the pill to their patients. A total of 6 percent of gynecologists surveyed and 1 percent of general practitioners have provided the nonsurgical abortion in the year since it has become available.

Taking the ``glass half full'' view of the data, Kaiser researchers believe the low numbers indicate the likelihood that more doctors will sign up to offer mifepristone in the coming year. Sixteen percent of gynecologists and 7 percent of general practice physicians said they were ``likely'' to offer RU-486 in the coming year.

``We're not necessarily seeing the big shift that either side was forecasting,'' said Tina Hoff, vice president of public health information and partnerships for the Kaiser Family Foundation. ``We're still relatively early in the time table since the drug was approved. Many physicians are still seeking out additional information.''

Pointing to the Kaiser data, anti-abortion advocates say the relatively low usage numbers bear out what they had been predicting even during the drug's clinical trials.

``Doctors who don't want to do abortions because it kills and their patients aren't buying into RU-486,'' said Jan Carroll, legislative analyst for the California ProLife Council. ``It's a much more complicated drug than it was portrayed over the 10- to 12-year attempt to get it on the market. The fact that it has not been as popular as it might be is not a surprise to us.''

Both Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation each report that about half their affiliates and members respectively are offering medical abortions with more expected to make the medication available in the coming year.

Fifty percent is right on target, said Stephanie Mueller, director of public policy for the National Abortion Federation.

``The clinics have received very positive response from women who have chosen this as an option,'' said Mueller. ``That's in line with what we found during the clinical trials. A lot of women are still not aware that this is an option for them.''

A two-dose regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol, requiring three doctor visits, allows a woman to end her pregnancy, experiencing the effects of what doctors describe as a planned miscarriage. Patients taking the abortion pill sign a consent document and may or may not receive counseling before making their decision.

In addition to lauding its elimination of the need for a surgical procedure, abortion-rights advocates say the medical abortion increases both a woman's and her physician's access to privacy. Still, more than half the surveyed physicians not offering mifepristone - for reasons other than personal opposition to the procedure - say concerns about protests or violence factored into their decision. Lack of patient demand for medical abortions was another influencing factor.

Dr. Charles Kimelman, a gynecologist in Tarzana, calls medical abortion ``a total failure,'' but largely because it doesn't fit in with the lifestyle of a majority of American women, not because of doctors' reluctance to offer it.

``In most cases, it's cheaper and less of a hassle to have a surgical abortion done than to take RU-486,'' said Kimelman. ``You're spending several hundreds of dollars more, and it takes one to two weeks to be done. With a surgical abortion, you can come to the office tomorrow, have the procedure and be done with it.''

``Cost is an issue,'' agreed Hoff. ``It is somewhat more expensive than a surgical abortion and in some clinics the issue of cost is factored in. Many choose to pay more out of pocket because of the privacy issue.''

Future public awareness campaigns on the part of the pill's advocates may focus on educating the public about the difference between RU-486 and emergency contraception pills. According to a separate Kaiser survey, while 61 percent of women age 18 to 44 have heard of mifepristone, many confuse it with emergency contraception which blocks pregnancy from occurring after unprotected sex.
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 12, 2001

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