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Illegal abortive drug circulates online amid safety concerns
  • By Lee Hye-seon
  • Published 2017.11.09 14:44
  • Updated 2017.11.09 14:44
  • comments 0

With a debate intensifying over the legalization of abortion in Korea, some are pushing to decriminalize the use of Mifegyne (ingredient: mifespristone), a medical abortive drug that inhibits the function of progesterone.

The abortion issue has been rekindled as more than 200,000 pro-abortion people recently signed a petition on Cheong Wa Dae’s official homepage “to abolish the criminal status of abortion and allow the use of abortion pills.”

The presidential Blue House pledged to give an official reply to the petition, and the Constitutional Court is reportedly deliberating whether criminalizing abortion is constitutional. The Constitutional Court’s deliberation is the first in five years since it ruled that making abortion illegal was constitutional in 2012.

Various walks of society, including the medical community, religious circles, and civic groups, have maintained difference stances on the thorny issue.

Mifegyne, a prescription-required medical abortion pill, won approval in France in 1998. Roussel Uclaf SA, one of predecessor companies of today’s Sanofi, developed the drug, also known as RU-486. Currently, Exelgyn, a French pharmaceutical company, has the right to sell Mifegyne outside the U.S.

Mifegyne has a mechanism to block an acceptor of progesterone, a hormone that maintains pregnancy. The drug induces abortion by lowering the effect of progesterone. Mifegyne can cause side effects, including vaginal bleeding, pain in the lower abdomen, abdomen cramps, genital infection such as pelvic inflammatory disease, and low blood pressure. The drug can also cause a fatal toxic shock, although it rarely occurs.

According to Exelgyn, the company is selling Mifegyne as an authorized medicine in more than 30 countries where abortion is legalized with sufficient medical infrastructure.

In Korea, abortion is illegal, and the healthy authorities ban the import of Mifegyne. However, the abortion pill is available online. Depending on the stage of pregnancy, the cost of abortion using Mifegyne is between 300,000 won and 600,000 won ($269-$538), sources said. On the Internet, one can easily find reviews of the drug written by those who took the pill.

However, it is impossible to check whether the pill is Mifegyne. If it is not, it is also hard to know whether the medicine is safe. Many women said they had side effects after taking the pill, according to their online reviews.

Experts expressed cautious stance about legalizing Mifegyne, however.

“Mifegyne controls the hormone to block nutrients from going to the embryo and induces a contraction of the womb, which leads to abortion. The drug is sold in parts of Europe and China. In Europe, physicians prescribe the pill to those with an early stage of pregnancy, instead of doing surgery,” Lee Gi-cheol, vice president of the Korean Association of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, told Korea Biomedical Review Wednesday.

However, Mifegyne is available only at the early stage of pregnancy and does not guarantee 100 percent success of abortion, which may require an additional surgery at a hospital, Lee noted. Thus, Korea should take a cautious approach in importing the pill, he said.

“This pill can be used at the very early stage of pregnancy. Normally, women can take the drug 10 days after their expected menstruation date or within two weeks after an assumed conception,” Lee said. “The placenta is linked through a blood vessel to the womb, and if the vessel is too thick, the pill won’t work.”

The later the stage of pregnancy, the lower the chance of a successful abortion, Lee went on to say, adding that those who take the medicine in a later stage will also have a higher chance of abdomen pain and more bleeding.

“If the abortion is done only partially with the placenta and its tissues remaining in the womb, the woman would need surgery at a hospital. If a dead placenta goes bad in the womb, side effects will be serious,” he said.


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