Abortion drugs wake-up call

In obstetrics, a fetus is an unborn child who is recognisably human and in whom all the major structures and organ systems are already present. An embryo is an unborn child from an earlier stage of development. An embryo becomes a fetus about eight weeks after fertilisation.

The ‘abortion drug’ RU486 kills embryos. RU486 or mifepristone destroys the lining of the womb so that the developing embryo is detached, deprived of nutrients, and dies of starvation. A day or two later, another drug called misoprostol is used to induce contractions and to expel the now-dead embryo.

I find it distressing to contemplate that embryos are being killed in this way. I also find it sad that so many Australian girls and women find themselves in a situation in which abortion seems to them to be their best alternative. I would argue that no one ever truly wants an abortion. But when women face an unplanned pregnancy, they can feel trapped, and that abortion is the only escape.

In September last year, an article was published in the Medical Journal of Australia about the use of RU486 in this country. It reported on 13,345 chemical abortions using RU486 between 1 September 2009 and 31 August 2011 at 15 Marie Stopes sites around Australia.

Most women reported medium to heavy bleeding, and moderate to severe cramps. The study also detailed 519 cases in which things did not go as planned. There were 382 cases in which the abortion was not complete, and surgical aspiration of the womb was required. In 83 cases the pregnancy continued.

There were 16 cases of haemorrhage, 11 of which required a blood transfusion. There were four cases of known infection, and 21 cases of suspected infection. One woman died as a result of complications. There have also been at least 15 other RU486-related deaths around the world.

The risk of physical complications after chemical abortion is relatively low, but real. The likelihood of psychological problems — even profound problems like post-traumatic stress disorder — is much greater.

In 2005, Selena Ewing from Women’s Forum Australia examined all the articles about abortion that had then been published in peer-reviewed journals over the previous 15 years. From this review of 168 articles she concluded that there is ‘substantial evidence of psychological harm associated with abortion … Ten to 20 per cent of women suffer from severe psychological complications after abortion’. Continue reading


Fr Kevin McGovern is the Director of the Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics, which is sponsored by Victoria’s Catholic hospitals.

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