RU 486, a medication used to induce abortion, has been linked to two additional deaths, according to a recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Both the women died as a result of an infection called Clostridium sordellii.
RU 486, also known as mifepristone, has been available in the US for 10 years. More than 1.2 million U.S. women have used RU 486 to terminate a pregnancy. The drug works by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is needed to continue a pregnancy. After swallowing three RU 486 pills in their healthcare provider’s office, women return two days later to take two tablets of misoprostol.
RU 486 bears a black box warning, the US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) strongest safety alert, regarding the risk of Clostridium sordellii infection. Several years ago, a Brown University study found that the antiprogesterone effects of mifepristone also cause changes in the cervix that allow Clostridium sordellii, a common vaginal bacteria, to enter the cervical canal. Recently, another study by researchers at the University of Michigan, found that misoprostol, when given directly in the reproductive tract, suppresses key immune responses and can allow the normally non-threatening bacterium to develop into a life-threatening infection.
According to the CDC, the two latest RU 486 deaths occurred since 2008. That year, a 29-year-old Hispanic woman died six days after she began taking vaginal misoprostol at 5 weeks gestation, after having experienced severe abdominal cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea two days before her death. The cause of death was determined to be 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.
A total of eight women have died in the US after using RU 486 since it first came on the market a decade ago. Some of those women died as a result of vaginal administration, even though the FDA had advised that oral administration was safer.
In 2006, abortion provider Planned Parenthood announced it would only instruct women to use the drug orally. Up until that point, it had advised vaginal use under the assumption that would cause fewer complications.