As you might have heard on the news today, two more women have died after taking RU-486.
March 17, 2006 7:01 PM   Subscribe

The number of patient fatalities in mifepristone abortions is estimated at 1 in 200,0001, about double the rate for suction-aspiration abortions of comparable terms, and about equal to the combined early and late term fatality rates for vacuum aspiration abortion.2 (source) (via) [More inside]
posted by sequential (30 comments total)
"The FDA is about to begin a new review of the abortion pill RU-486, which some have blamed for the sudden deaths of four American women. A scientific review of the cases fails to definitively link the drug to the fatalities."3 "The scientific meeting could touch off a political debate reminiscent of the firestorm surrounding Plan B, the emergency contraception pill. The Government Accountability Office (html) in November released a report charging that the FDA didn't follow (html) its own procedures when it denied Plan B over-the-counter status, indicating that political appointees trumped scientific staff."4

On the other hand, "[p]rior to approval of Vioxx, a study was performed by Merck named 090. This study found nearly a 7-fold increase in heart attack risk with low dose Vioxx. The labeling at approval said nothing about heart attack risks."5 Read the "FDA Statement on Vioxx and Recent Allegations and the Agency's Continued Commitment to Sound Science and Peer Review."6
posted by sequential at 7:02 PM on March 17, 2006

What's the death rate for just plain giving birth, again? Isn't it, like, one in 14,000 or so, even in a modern hospital setting?
posted by kafziel at 7:09 PM on March 17, 2006

US maternal death rate: 1:12500. (source)
posted by cobaltnine at 7:18 PM on March 17, 2006

Let's get the FDA in on the case of the pregnancy-related deaths. With any luck, we can get that horrible practice of giving birth pulled completely from the market!
posted by cellphone at 7:24 PM on March 17, 2006

Well-played, kafziel. But it's actually a lot higher even than you think. According to WHO, it's 17 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in the US, which I make to be around one per 5,882 births.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:25 PM on March 17, 2006

In fact, the death rate from legal abortions performed in clinics is much lower than the maternal fatality rate giving birth. That is, it is safer for the woman to have an abortion than to proceed to a live birth.1
While infant mortality has declined in the United States, maternal mortality has not. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, the maternity mortality ratio remained about 7.5 deaths per 100,000 live births between 1982 and 1996. With ratios of between 18 and 22 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, African-American women had a much higher maternal mortality rate than white women, who had ratios of between five and six deaths per 100,000 births. The Healthy People 2000 objective is 3.3 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Some measures that need to be implemented to achieve that goal include family planning services, access to prenatal care, education about sexually transmitted diseases, and STD treatment.2
On preview, what cobaltnine said.
posted by sequential at 7:25 PM on March 17, 2006

The FDA is entirely just another political branch of the Bush Administration, and is really grasping at straws here. Of course, because it's an election year, they have to throw red meat to their base, whether something is medically sound or not.
posted by amberglow at 7:30 PM on March 17, 2006

Perhaps the FDA should consider banning childbirth.
posted by JekPorkins at 7:32 PM on March 17, 2006

it denied Plan B over-the-counter status, indicating that political appointees the will of God trumped scientific staff.
posted by homunculus at 7:34 PM on March 17, 2006

I swear I used preview, i_am_joe's_spleen. Interesting that the CDC and the WHO differ so greatly.

kafziel, thanks for highlighting the maternity mortality rate. I avoided doing so in the FPP because I was not attempting to present this as being necessarily about abortion, but, at the very least, an issue of the government (FDA) applying a double standard to drugs relating to women's reproductive freedom and, say, big money makers like Vioxx. Issues of intent and balance in the FPP aside, amberglow may be right: this smells like a potential wedge issue.

homunculus, that's a great insight into the debate over Plan B. Thanks for the link
posted by sequential at 7:39 PM on March 17, 2006

actually, they are not sure if the two deaths are related or not.

from the AP at 5:30pm

"Nor has the FDA confirmed the cause of the latest two deaths...Those women did not follow FDA-approved instructions for the pill-triggered abortion, which requires swallowing three tablets of one drug, followed by two of another two days later"
posted by dylanSnow at 7:43 PM on March 17, 2006

Thanks for the clarification and the AP quote, dylanSnow. There is a distinction between saying "two women died after taking RU-486" and "two women died from taking RU-486", but perhaps that's not clear.
posted by sequential at 7:52 PM on March 17, 2006

What's the death rate for the kids?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:18 PM on March 17, 2006

no kids involved at all, weapons, so it'd be none.
posted by amberglow at 9:44 PM on March 17, 2006

This is really what's driving this:
US evangelicals warn Republicans

posted by amberglow at 10:47 PM on March 17, 2006

"Perhaps the FDA should consider banning childbirth."

I could certainly recommend some test subjects for a case study...
posted by stenseng at 11:50 PM on March 17, 2006

If the political fallout from this is going to be a debate on women's safety, then let's have it.
posted by iamck at 1:29 AM on March 18, 2006

According to the first pro-life site stats, there have been seven US deaths and 12 international deaths due to RU-486. Viagra seems to have killed 564 men in 2000 alone.
posted by occhiblu at 9:44 AM on March 18, 2006

Yes but you see, it's worth risking death to have a hard-on. Eliminating the risk of a pregnancy? Mere lifestyle choice!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:03 AM on March 18, 2006

Well, it would be eliminating an actual pregnancy, not the risk of one, but "ha!" nonetheless.
posted by occhiblu at 10:13 AM on March 18, 2006

occhiblu, there's a difference between deaths caused by Viagra and deaths after having taken mifepristone. The difference is not pedantic.

Sildenafil citrate was developed to treat angina in 1991. It has a specific set of instructions for use and precautions about drug interactions, especially for patients with a history of heart problems. Viagra can cause a patient to die.

To date, there has been no evidence that shows a causal relationship between mifepristone and death. The people who take it die from untreated infections. (Excuse the simplification.) Sure, the infection is caused by the direct effect of taking mifepristone, but the mifepristone is not known to cause death directly. The fact is mifepristone is an abortifacient. Any form of abortion, whether it is miscarriage, surgical, or medical, runs the risk of this type of infection.
posted by sequential at 10:21 AM on March 18, 2006

Well, yes, I wasn't debating any of that. Which is specifically why I pointed out the stats were coming from a pro-life site -- you'd assume that those stats were as stretched as they could be to prove that mifepristone was dangerous. And yet... even if we accept those numbers as "real" (which, like you, I don't), the numbers aren't even close to problems caused by other common drugs.
posted by occhiblu at 10:52 AM on March 18, 2006

(And it looks like aspirin is involved in about 50 deaths each year.)
posted by occhiblu at 11:02 AM on March 18, 2006

good points, occhiblu. Please excuse my initial lack of understanding of your intent.
posted by sequential at 11:19 AM on March 18, 2006

Not a problem; I could have been clearer in what I meant -- I just had a hard time crafting something that wasn't completely and utterly sarcastic at the expense of the Right, and so figured it'd be better to leave it out.
posted by occhiblu at 11:49 AM on March 18, 2006

Well, it would be eliminating an actual pregnancy, not the risk of one, but "ha!" nonetheless.

IIRC RU-486 = morning-after = risk of pregnancy, not confirmed fact thereof.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:24 PM on March 18, 2006

Though on re-read, perhaps you were refering to mifepristone.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:25 PM on March 18, 2006

RU-486 *is* mifepristone, and it does cause an abortion (termination of an implanted embryo up to 56 days after the first missed period). You're thinking of emergency contraception, which is different, and which does not cause abortion but prevents fertilization and/or implantation.

Both have been referred to as the "morning after pill," but they're not the same thing.
posted by occhiblu at 2:46 PM on March 18, 2006

And the drug being discussed in the links is RU-486 / mifepristone.
posted by occhiblu at 2:48 PM on March 18, 2006

Yup. occhiblu has it right.

RU-486 = mifepristone = medical abortion

Plan B = levonorgestrel = emergency contraception
posted by kayjay at 8:57 PM on March 19, 2006

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