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Will 1999 Be The Year For Mifepristone (Ru-486)? And, An Update on Women’s Other Options for Very Early Abortion

National Survey of Women’s Health Care Providers on Medical Abortion

September 16, 1998

One in Two Ob/Gyns Say They are Likely to Offer Mifepristone (RU-486) If Approved by FDA, And Almost Half Who Do Not Now Provide Abortions Say They Would Provide the Medical Alternative

Many Family Practice Physicians, Nurse Practitioners and Physician AssistantsAlso Report Interest

Menlo Park, CA – In the coming year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to complete its review of mifepristone (sometimes referred to as RU-486 or the “French abortion pill”), a medical alternative to early surgical abortion. If approved, a national survey of obstetrician/gynecologists (ob/gyns) finds that more than half (54%) say they are “very” or “somewhat” likely to prescribe the drug for patients seeking abortions, including almost as many (35%) who do not now provide surgical abortions.

In addition, many family practice physicians (45%) and nurse practitioners and physician assistants (54%) also express interest in offering mifepristone if approved, potentially significantly expanding the number of providers offering some form of abortion. In this survey, 3 percent of family practice physicians, and 2 percent of nurse practitioners and physician assistants, reported “ever performing” surgical abortion.

Available in France, England and Sweden for much of the last decade, mifepristone has been used by more than one half million women in Europe. In the United States, it has so far only been available to a limited number of women participating in clinical trials. Methotrexate, a FDA approved cancer drug which has also been found effective in ending pregnancy, is currently available in the United States, although information about how widely it is being offered is limited.

“The level of provider interest in mifepristone, especially among those not now providing abortions, could mean expanded access for women,” says Felicia H. Stewart, MD, Director of Reproductive Health Programs, Kaiser Family Foundation.

The survey findings are being presented today at a briefing in New York that provides an update on the availability of mifepristone and other medical alternatives to surgical abortion in the U.S. The briefing is part of an ongoing series, Emerging Issues in Reproductive Health, sponsored by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, The Alan Guttmacher Institute, and the National Press Foundation.

When this survey was conducted in the Spring of 1997, fewer providers expected to offer methotrexate over the coming year, even though it is already available here, than said they would likely prescribe mifepristone if approved: 19 percent of ob/gyns, 11 percent of family practice physicians, and 13 percent of nurse practitioners and physician assistants. In fact, more providers say if a choice were available they would choose mifepristone over methotrexate for their patients.

A companion survey of Americans between the ages of 18-44 conducted at the same time as the survey of providers finds that about half have heard of either mifepristone or methotrexate (43% of women, 51% of men). Among women of “reproductive age” who are aware of the medications, 72 percent know they can be used to end a pregnancy.


Methodology

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s National Survey of Health Care Providers on Medical Abortion is a national random-sample telephone survey of 756 health care providers, including 305 obstetrician/gynecologists, 238 family practice physicians, and 229 nurse practitioners and physician assistants practicing in the United States. It was designed by staff at the Kaiser Family Foundation and Fact Finders, Inc. and conducted by Fact Finders, Inc. between March 5 and June 12, 1997. The margin of error ranges from plus or minus two to seven percent for particular questions.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s National Survey of Americans on Medical Abortion is a random-sample telephone survey of 1,000 women and 300 men aged 18-44 years old living in the continental United States. It was designed by staff at the Foundation and Princeton Survey Research Associates (PSRA) and conducted by PSRA between May 13 and June 8, 1997. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percent for women and plus or minus six percent for men.

A summary report on the findings, including the questionnaire and top line data, are available by calling the Kaiser Family Foundation’s publication request line at 1-800-656-4533 (Ask for #1431).