In the early 1990’s, I was part of a movement that was trying to get the “abortion pill,” otherwise known as RU-486, into the country. Ultimately, that effort was successful.
Immediately, the pro-choice movement heralded the introduction of the pill. In a New York Times piece, one leader predicted “great social change” in this country. She argued that doctors across the country who had never performed surgical abortions would suddenly start dispensing the pill, making abortion services even more accessible to women.
From the beginning, however, other pro-choice advocates, particularly those who actually worked in the clinics, warned their colleagues not to hype the product too much. They argued that a doctor who was not performing surgical abortions would not just jump into the “abortion wars” and start dispensing the pill. After all, they reasoned, if you want to take the leap into the world of abortion, even it’s just the pill, then you have to be ready for everything that comes with the provision of abortion services, including the specter of violence. After all, why would a little ole doctor in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a doctor who had never performed surgical abortions, suddenly get up and decide to offer the pill? If he or she was looking at this as a way to supplement their income, then they would have to let people know that they offered the product, which probably meant taking an ad in the Yellow Pages. And once you’re in the Yellow Pages under “Abortion Services,” you are suddenly a target. There was also the issue of staff in that you’d have to get all of them to agree to suddenly start providing abortions. You’d have to start thinking about security, insurance, hiring trained counselors, etc., etc.
Well, those folks were right. To this day, a number of women use the pill but the numbers have not gone up astronomically like some predicted. And the pill has certainly not supplanted surgical abortions. Also, those new doctors never did come out of the woodwork.
I grow weary of blaring press releases and unrelenting hype. The feminist groups fought to get the abortion pill on the market for good reason, but they exaggerated its impact. That’s because they really didn’t talk to the clinics, those who were in the trenches on a daily basis.
Today, the abortion pill is being used but it has not been a substitute for surgical abortion. One reason is that it’s not just a matter of popping one pill. It’s really several pills over several days. The cost is also higher than a surgical abortion. And some women did not react well when told that when they took the pill, they would be expelling the pregnancy into a toilet. Clinics still report that women are calling in the middle of the night “freaking out” at the blood and the sight of what ultimately might have been their baby.
The pill is a good option for some.
It didn’t change society…