What is RU-486?
RU-486 is the drug now known as mifepristone that is combined with another drug, misoprostol, and used for medical abortion. RU486 is available and widely used in the United Kingdom and most of Europe, the United States, China, Israel and much of the Middle East, in New Zealand and in many other countries.
In Australia, Dr Mike Carrette and Caroline de Costa were the first two doctors permitted to prescribe the drug for the purposes of abortion (in 2006). Mifepristone is now widely available in Australia. In August 2012 the Marie Stopes International Australia group obtained approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to market the drug nationally and in 2013 it was listed in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule. .
The campaign to overturn the ‘Harradine Amendment’ and permit use of RU-486 in Australia began in late 2005. Senator Lyn Allison and others were preparing a legislative attempt to remove from the Therapeutic Goods Act the restriction on RU-486. In October 2005 Caroline de Costa published in the Medical Journal of Australia an article entitled ‘Medical abortion for Australian women – it’s time’. (www.mja.com.au) The article was widely read and distributed and co-incided with a growing campaign that included women’s health groups and legislators from both state and Federal parliaments and across the whole political spectrum. In February 2006 a Private Members Bill brought to the Senate by four women senators passed with a large majority on a conscience vote and the following week also passed the House of Representatives.
More details of this campaign and the history of mifepristone in Australia and overseas can be found in Caroline’s book RU486- the abortion pill (Boolarong Press 2008).
Current availability of the drug
The overturning of the Harradine Amendment did not automatically permit the import and use of mifepristone in Australia. Initially pharmaceutical companies were reluctant to take up import and distribution of a drug with such a controversial history despite the strong evidence from overseas of its effectiveness and safety. At first the Authorised Prescriber regulations of the TGA were used for individual doctors to import and use the drug. The French company Linepharm under the direction of Dr Andre Ulmann was instrumental in bringing an application to the TGA to import mifepristone into Australia and later joined forces with the Marie Stopes organisation who now hold distribution rights in Australia.
Mifepristone, used in conjunction with misoprostol, is now available for early medical abortion in all capital cities except Darwin and in many other urban and rural areas throughout Australia. Women wishing to know more about mifepristone and medical abortion can contact the websites of Children by Choice, Brisbane www.childrenbychoice.org.au or Marie Stopes International Australia www.mariestopes.org.au