WTF is RU486?

By Kaila De Cinque

Does anybody know what RU486 is? Some kind of missile? A slightly confused acronym? Nope, sorry it’s the medical abortion pill and it’s finally been registered in Australia, so if you’ve been seeing it in the news and getting worried about nuclear war, keep calm and let me explain it to you.

Medical abortion is made up of two different pills; Mifepristone linepharma, which is taken first by the woman with the doctor, and the second pill; misoprostol, is taken 24-48 hours later in the lovely private comfort of your own home. …but what does it DO?  Good question, the pills act as a synthetic steroid which works to terminate pregnancy by blocking the production of the progesterone hormone. (fact: progesterone is necessary in early pregnancy to stimulate and develop the endometrium –cushiony stuff the egg implants into) By taking progesterone out of the equation the egg is unable to attach to the lining and is shed, similar to a miscarriage.

Medical abortion technically became available in 2006, when a government veto was lifted, meaning 187 special doctors wrote scripts for 22 330 women over the past six and half years. BUT no pharmaceutical company registered it, so the future of RU486 was a mystery, until the 30th of August 2012 when Marie Stopes had RU486 successfully approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) meaning more doctors in more areas can prescribe it to women before they reach their 9th week of pregnancy.

“Hallelujah, after being available since 1989, Australia has become the 51st country to register this drug which is listed by the World Health Organization as an essential medicine.”

By having the RU486 registered in Australia the termination of unwanted pregnancy in a safe and legal form, is becoming more available. This is most evident in rural areas where there may not have facilities for a surgical abortion. RU486 is a much less invasive form of abortion, meaning there are less stresses, trauma and chance of infection. There is an ultrasound to confirm the current stage of pregnancy and a discussion and/or counselling if required, so the woman will only spend an average of one hour in the clinic and return to their own home for calm, less clinical environment, with no need for anaesthesia and pain killers only by the woman’s digression. Medical abortion has a 98% success rate with only 2% of women requiring a surgical abortion for the successful termination of pregnancy. This all adds up to more options for more women, not bad Marie Stopes!

From here your average doctors are able to undergo training with Marie Stopes so they can prescribe RU486 too, and it can be dispensed by pharmacies (who are cool with dispensing it) at the doctor’s choice. Marie Stopes is also looking at campaigning for RU486 to be put on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) meaning that medical abortion would be more affordable, which is ANOTHER bonus since at the moment it’s pretty expensive, $505 for the average West Australian woman. Hopefully this will be achieved so these rights aren’t limited to those with a spare 500 bucks and women who are struggling financially will have this option too. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for medication to be listed on the PBS but hopefully with enough public education and understanding, the PBS will see the need to make RU486 available to everyone – regardless of their income.

Although it’s not for everyone I’m celebrating a little win for increased reproductive choice! For more information please see


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