In a sometimes contentious hearing, a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives Government Reform committee last week heard testimony and debated whether mifepristone (RU 486) should be removed from the market. Democrats who attended the meeting unanimously advocated letting science and not ideology or politics determine the future use of the medical abortion drug known in the US as Mifeprex.
The hearing was chaired by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), chair of the House Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Subcommittee, who repeatedly stated that his opposition to abortion had no relevance to the hearing. Souder said his motivation for calling for the removal of Mifeprex from the market is his concern for women’s health following the deaths of five women out of the almost 600,000 who had used Mifeprex in the United States. All five had taken Mifeprex orally followed by a prostaglandin inserted vaginally. Four of the deaths have been determined to be from a rare bacteria (Clostridium) that has been identified in 30 fatalities, including eight women who had given birth, two who had miscarriages and also in some men.
The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), questioned why the hearing was focusing on only the deaths from the Clostridium bacteria where mifepristone was taken when there were more fatalities in people who had not been given the drug. Cummings said, “Our focus should be looking at all of the deaths, not bullying FDA” to remove mifepristone from the market. In her testimony before the Committee, Susan Wood, PhD, the former Food and Drug Administration Assistant Commissioner for Women’s, spoke of how the close monitoring of mifepristone has “alerted us that this bacterial infection is present and has caused deaths of other women who have given birth or had a miscarriage – more in fact than the number of women who underwent a medical abortion.” Wood went on to say that we need to improve systems that monitor maternal mortality to determine the impact of Clostridium and to “understand and prevent the other risks that women face with pregnancy.”
Questioning the basis for the hearing, Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-FL), ranking Democrat on the full Government Affairs Committee, said, “The reason I believe we are here...people wanted RU 486 pulled since it was approved.” Waxman further said, “Any regulatory decision on RU 486 must be made based on science and law not politics of the abortion debate.”