NATIONAL ad campaign begins in women's magazines for abortion pill RU-486

Thursday, July 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Sandwiched between a mineral water ad and toothpaste news is a photo of a young woman contemplating whether to take the abortion pill RU-486.

``You have the freedom to choose. And now, you have another safe abortion choice,'' says the full-page ad in the July issue of Self magazine.

The message is part of a national advertising campaign in major magazines that has drawn objections from abortion foes. The ad was also in People magazine earlier this month and will appear in the August issue of Vanity Fair, Glamour and some seven other national magazines.

Known formally as mifepristone and marketed as the Early Option pill, the practically do-it-yourself alternative to surgical abortion won federal approval 10 months ago. It was developed as RU-486 more than a decade ago in France.

The National Abortion Federation, which represents 400 facilities nationwide that provide abortions, is behind the $2 million privately funded ad campaign.

Advocates say it is no different from running ads for birth control pills or condoms.

The ads ``are saying that we don't need to be ashamed about abortion as an option,'' says Lorie Spear, director of surgical services for Planned Parenthood in Chicago.

Abortion foes say promoting it with the type of mass marketing used to sell toothpaste is abhorrent.

``They're trying to mainstream it, trying to make it seem like an ordinary part of life,'' says Randall K. O'Bannon of the National Right to Life Committee. ``It's not about life at all. It's a violent destruction of another being's life.''

O'Bannon says the ads suggest that demand for the product has been weaker than anticipated.

Advocates say they are encouraged with the demand so far. But the federation says it has no figures on how many mifepristone abortions have been done. And mifepristone's U.S. marketer, Danco Laboratories, did not return calls.

Jana Cunningham, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood's San Francisco-area clinics, says the ads may increase the percentage of women choosing the pill over surgical abortions, but not the overall number of abortions.

``Women aren't stupid,'' she says. ``They're not going to see an ad and say, `Oh, I'm going to have an abortion.'''

The ads are aimed at women like Rose, a 23-year-old New York City secretary, who did not know about mifepristone until she saw a Planned Parenthood billboard earlier this year. The unmarried mother of a 3-year-old son was pregnant and did not think she could afford another child.

``I was scared. I wanted the most painless procedure possible,'' says Rose, who asked that her last name not be disclosed.

She got mifepristone from Planned Parenthood and had the abortion in March. Rose says she liked being able to have an abortion at home, though the procedure was not pain-free.

``It was like really bad period cramps,'' Rose says, and it was ``very scary, because you don't really know if you're doing it right.''

Mifepristone is approved only for use within 49 days of the start of the woman's last period. Under the protocol approved last September by the Food and Drug Administration, women make three trips to the doctor, including visits to obtain the pills and a follow-up to ensure the abortion is complete.

Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, says about half of its member facilities are offering mifepristone, and she predicts that will climb to 90 percent within a year.

Mifepristone has been used in about 3 percent of abortions at Planned Parenthood's San Francisco-area clinics, Cunningham says.

Planned Parenthood's clinic on Chicago's near North Side reports that mifepristone accounted for 11 percent of the clinic's abortions from January through May. The clinic charges about $430 for a pill-induced abortion, about $100 more than for a surgical abortion.