How it works, complications and side-effects

The RU-486 pill is a method of chemical abortion that is sometimes used through the 7th week of pregnancy. The producers of the pill have spent millions promoting RU-486 as a safe and effective alternative to surgical abortion - but the evidence reveals a very different picture.


1st Visit

She must have a thorough history physical exam and blood count. If she's anaemic, has high blood pressure, kidney disease, smokes or is over 35, she is rejected. Finally, she needs an ultrasound exam to confirm the age of her baby and rule out a tubal pregnancy. She must sign her permission and in some states or nations wait one or more days.

2nd Visit

She takes the pills

3rd Visit

She is given prostaglandin drug (cytotec or misoprotone). This produces hard labour. Usually the baby parts are passed that day.

4th Visit

If she has not aborted or if she is still bleeding, she will need an ultrasound to determine if the uterus is empty. If not, she needs a D&C. The French Ministry of Health requires that the abortion facility be equipped with EKG IV equipment and a "crash cart" with a defibrillator in the event of a heart attack resulting from the drugs.


What in the past has been less readily acknowledged is that RU-486 is also, at worst, a "maternicide" and at best, deleterious to a woman health. The following is a selected and very brief list of some of the recorded side-effects of RU-486.

  • Death of a young woman in Austrailia in 2010. Reported in ABC News, 19 March 2012
  • One maternal death reported on 25.3.91 by AAP and by The Australian 13-14th April 1991
  • One Heart attack and another cardiac anomaly reported by Roussel, the manufacturer in 1990.
  • Two further instances in 1991 of severe cardiac failures
  • Post-abortion bleeding can be significant in 10% of women, lasting from 3-43 days. Indeed, this bleeding can be so bad that transfusions are needed. Professor Herranz cites a study showing that one in one hundred women required this procedure. In another study by Russel, seven women out of 950 in the trial required a transfusion
  • Substantial pain accompanies the uterine contractions. In the Roussel study previously mentioned, 270 women out of 950 required narcotics, and 280 required less potent pain relievers
  • Other less dramatic side-effects are also common e.g. vomiting, diarrhoea, fainting, fatigue and excessive thirst

Bio-ethicist Mr Nick Tonti-Filippini has drawn attention to questions that have been raised about the lasting effect of RU-486 on the tissues of the cervix and the uterus. Both of theses structures, and their proper functioning, are of paramount importance to the viability of any future pregnancies. Also, because RU-486 crosses the blood-follicle barrier, there is concern about the drugs effect on the both the ovaries and egg follicles of woman.

The importance of this effect is that a woman is born with her life supply of "eggs." Her body does not create a new ova on each cycle. If her life supply is damaged then the effects of this damage may manifest itself in any or all of her future pregnancies.

Bleeding, common to most cases is prolonged bleeding averaging 9 - 30 days. In the controlled testing reported to date one woman in a hundred bled so badly that she needed either a D&C, surgical scraping out of her womb and/or a blood transfusion. In undeveloped countries, such treatment is often not available and some of these women will bleed to death. Interuption of Pregnancy with RU486 and prostaglandin. Silvestre et. al. NEM J.Med Vol 322 3/8/90 No 10


Studies vary but well over half of women need specific pain medication with about 1/3 needing narcotic. There is nausea and vomiting in most cases.

Ectopic pregnancy

These drugs do not kill an embryo growing in her tube. A woman with a tubal pregnancy could take the drug, bleed, think she had passed everything and then suddenly rupture a tube. This is potentially fatal. The only preventative is to do an ultrasound exam on every woman - a test that costs as much as an entire surgical abortion.

Incomplete abortion

This necessitates a surgical intervention and a D&C scraping out of the womb.

Psychological upset

None other than Dr. Edwardo Sakiz, then President Roussel Uclaf,

"The woman must live with this for a full week. This is an appalling psychological ordeal."  RU486 failure in ovarian hetero tropic pregnancy J. Lievin et al. OBGYN August 1990

Sometimes she will pass parts of the baby at home. Firm instructions are that she must save whatever passes in a jar and bring it to the doctor to see that everything is out. In a surgical abortion she rarely sees the pieces. Here she will and she will never forget.

Post abortion syndrome

Many women getting abortions are very ambivalent. One defence mechanism is for to say "I can't help it. I have no choice. Anyhow they are doing this to me." With RU486 she swallows the pills and does it to herself. More research needs to be done on this but indications are that PAS will be at least as common from this method as from surgery.

Fetal deformity

RU486 and a prostaglandin will produce an abortion 95% of the time. The rest will be advised to have a surgical abortion. But there will some who refuse surgery and carry to term. These babies will have a significant possibility of fetal deformity. Two poisonous drugs were given when the hearts, limbs etc were being formed. This didn't quite kill, but the effect can be to cause severe structural deformities as a direct toxic effect similar to those in Thalidomide. In addition, the drugs can cause genetic damage to the developing baby. Genetic damage may also be caused to children she bears later similar to the DES drug tragedy. In the tightly controlled French experience there has been one such tragedy.

A report relates the case of a woman who wanted an abortion and opted for the RU-486 technique. When it "failed" she refused the post RU-486 surgical abortion. The woman had belatedly decided to continue with her pregnancy. Some 14 weeks later an ultra -sound was performed which showed gross deformation of the unborn child.

The baby was subsequently surgically aborted and found to have no kidneys, no external genitalia, no internal reproductive organs, no stomach or gallbladder and its legs had fused together.

False uses of RU-486

In an attempt to deflect or neutralise the justified criticisms of RU-486 (mifepristone), there has been a concerted campaign to paint RU-486 as being suitable to many other medical conditions. Much of the impetus to portray RU-486 in an altruistic, philanthropic light derives from an article by Dr Regelson of the Medical College of Virginia.

He states that his research shows RU-486 has many other treatment applications aside from abortion. "This clearly includes breast cancer, inoperable meningioma (brain tumour) and Cushing's disease ... and ... its potential value, based on laboratory evidence and the experience with Cushing's Disease, in treating some forms of hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, and AIDS."

Unfortunately there appears to be some doubt about both the validity of, and the motives behind these claims.


With regards to the use of RU-486 in AIDS, even Roussel's international marketing director, Ariel Mouttet, considered it "'scandalous' to suggest that RU-486 could be used in the treatment of AIDS. Such claims only serve to raise the hopes of the sick 'and to make Roussel-Uclaf look wicked.'"

Breast Cancer

The media have also focused on the claim by Dr. Regelson that 18% (of patients) showed significant measurable tumor regression to RU-486 in one preliminary trial. This claim though is based upon only one trial comprising of only twenty-two women over only three months. The parameters of this study and the subsequent conclusions by Dr. Regelson have been called into question by Richard Glasow Ph.D. He draws attention to a study which showed that RU-486 stimulated the growth of breast cancer cells in a test tube. According to Dr Glasow" most breast cancer are oestrogen-related, not progesterone related."

Brain Tumor

The claim that RU-486 might be useful in inoperable menigioma (brain tumor) is difficult to sustain given that the only published reference in this field is in Los Angeles Times 28/9/1989. Of the fourteen in this study, four patients enjoyed a 10% shrinkage of the tumor, in six the tumour stabilised and in one person the tumor grew.

Cushing's Disease

Finally, as to the use of RU-486 in Cushing's Desease (pituitary-dependent bilateral adrenal hyperplasia) the evidence is very flimsy. Dr Regelson depends upon two studies, with a total of only two patients. One study went for less than one week. The second study involved only one patient who had Cushing's syndrome (as distinct from Cushing's Disease).

Deaths from RU-486

Elissa Meites, Suzanne Zane, and Carolyn Gould of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detailed the deaths in a letter to the editor published in the New England Journal of Medicine September 30, 2010. The doctors wrote that at least two more women since 2008 have succumbed to the bacteria Clostridium sordellii following a typical medical abortion regimen.

In 2008, a 29-year-old white Hispanic woman died 6 days after she began taking vaginal misoprostol at 5 weeks gestation, they wrote, and experienced "severe abdominal cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea" two days before her death. They write that "exploratory laparotomy revealed copious greenish-brown peritoneal fluid and necrotic uterine and adnexal tissue [ovaries or fallopian tubes]," and that despite removing her reproductive organs "she died of sepsis with acute respiratory distress syndrome."

The second woman, a 21-year-old previously healthy white woman, died 12 days after starting the regimen in 2009. She experienced similar symptoms on the sixth day after beginning the regimen, and also died of sepsis with acute renal failure and internal bleeding

The FDA approved RU-486 for medical abortions ten years ago, and since then hundreds of severe adverse symptoms have been reported. The latest report brings the total of U.S. deaths from the drug to at least twelve, according to the Family Research Council. They also recounted that "over 1,300 adverse affects on women using the drug" have been recorded, including 336 hospitalizations, and 172 blood transfusions.

Earlier Deaths

It was reported in the New York Times as far back as 1991 that "At least three woman have died from it. Another had a cardiac arrest. A third ventricular fibrillation. Both would be dead except that the clinic had a defribillator and shocked them back to life."French Woman's Death, New York Times, A. Riding, April 10th 1991

In France, severe cardiac complications occurred in 1 case in 20,000. In Iowa, one woman almost died from hemorrhage after an RU486 abortion. In third world countries many women will probably die from bleeding.

Death of Nadine Walkowiak

31 years old Nadine Walkowiak had already four children from a first marriage and with Christian Polveche, five more, that they were rearing together at home. In March 1991, Nadine, wondering about a new pregnancy, consulted the family physician, Doctor Patrick Annic. The day after, he gave her a letter for the Family Planning group in Lens, France. On March 21st, Nadine Walkowiak went there and did the formalities necessary for an abortion, then was aborted immediately by taking 3 tablets of mifegyne 200 mg (RU-486) in the presence of Doctor Pas, physician of the abortion centre of Lens.

The legal reflection waiting period (1 week) for an abortion application was thus not respected. On March 23rd 1991 at 10.15am, Ms Walkowiak received an intramuscular shot of half an ampoule (250 micrograms) of Nalador. She died on the same day at 8pm of massive coronary thrombosis.

Mr. Polveche is now alone to rear his five children. It forced him to quit his job, because he refuses to put them in the DASS (public orphanage) due to his parental love and his sense of parental duty.

This whole affair would have been kept confidential if a journalist of the regional daily La Voix du Nord had not received a phone call from one of his informers in the hospital. So he was able to go there immediately and make an inquiry. This and the simple understanding of statistics incite us to believe that Nadine Walkowiak is not the only victim of RU486, all journalists do not have good informers in hospitals.

Death of Holly Patterson

Holly's father didn't even know she was pregnant until the hospital called to tell him that his daughter had been brought in following complications from an abortion. She was eighteen years old. "Every time I think about it, I think, 'She suffered in silence,'" he says. "She felt she would disappoint everyone around her, and then she had to carry that whole load. I wish she could have told me so I could have helped her."

He has told the press that he later learned that Holly and her boyfriend went to Planned Parenthood on September 10, 2003, where she was given RU-486, the "abortion pill". On September 14 her boyfriend took her to Valley Care Medical Center's emergency room, where she complained of severe cramping and bleeding. She was told that this was normal following an RU-486 abortion, was given some pain killers and sent home. Three days later he took her back, and the next day she was dead.

Doctors at Valley Care say she died from septic shock and infection resulting from incomplete expulsion of the fetus. That is, parts of the dead baby were left in her womb. At a press conference, Marcy Feit, CEO of the hospital, called for an investigation into the safety of RU-486. "We're going to be asking the FDA to give us some answers about the safety of this drug," she said. The abortion drugs "have had a controversial history since they were first approved in 2000."

Danco Laboratories, which manufactures the drug, says it has referred to the FDA about 400 reports of adverse effects, most involving excessive bleeding but some involving bacterial infections. Five to eight percent of women who use RU-486 require surgery to stop bleeding or deal with other complications. At least two women in America have died shortly after using RU-486, though the FDA says there is no "proof" that the abortion pill was responsible.

The FDA approved RU-486 in 2000 under "Section H", a special "fast track" procedure which is normally used only for emergency approval of life-saving drugs. Many of the normal rules that are intended to insure safety were ignored so the abortion pill could be rushed onto the market. In Holly's case, one of the procedures the FDA did call for -- that the second pill be taken under medical supervision -- was ignored, and instead she was sent home with a vaginal insert and told to do it herself.

16-year-old Portuguese Girl 

A sixteen-year-old Portuguese girl died in 2011 from a bacterial infection after taking the abortion pill RU-486. The Portuguese Health Ministry stated in a press release that this brought the worldwide fatalities to  “a total of 32 confirmed dead after taking of RU-486”. Clostrudium sordelli infections from RU-486 are fatal 100% of the time.

Wright, Wendy. Portuguese teenager dies from from RU-486. Concerned Women for America, (18 May 2011).

Two British women die from RU-486

In 2004 it was revealed that two British women died after taking RU-486. Reports of two "suspected fatal reactions in association with the use of Mifegyne [RU486]" surfaced only after a British public health minister responded to a formal query by a member of the British parliament. Further details on how or why the women died were not made available

Michael Day and Susan Bisset, "Revealed: two British women die after taking controversial new abortion pill," The Telegraph (UK), (18 January 2004).

Swedish teenager dies from RU-486

According to her mother, 16-year-old Rebecca, a young Swedish woman, did not want a chemical abortion, but was talked into it by the doctor at the hospital. Following his advice, she returned there a week later and took three RU486 pills. Two days later, she returned to the hospital, was administered misoprostol, and received some pain killers. After about eight hours, and some bleeding, Rebecca passed a "big blob" and went home. Six days later, after noting how tired she was, her boyfriend recommended she return to the hospital. She told him she had been informed that she should expect to bleed for several days. He left breakfast for her on the kitchen table. When he returned home at day's end, he found the breakfast untouched and his girlfriend's lifeless body in the shower, where she had bled to death.

Sprangers, Jan. “Rebecca dog av abortpiller,”, Sweden, (17 March 2004).

37-year-old Italian woman dies after taking RU486 pill