Historic ruling sparks debate over abortion pills

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Historic ruling sparks debate over abortion pills

By Bahk Eun-ji

Following the recent historic Constitutional Court decision against the nation's 66-year-old abortion ban, calls are rising on the government to legalize the sale of abortive drugs, such as a well-known one, Mifegyne.

A pharmacists' group calls for government's approval for Mifegyene, an abortion drug, following the Constitutional Court's decision to lift the abortion ban, while a doctors' group raises concerns over possible side effects. /Korea Times file
But some others express a more cautious approach for the sales permission, because misuse or abuse of the drugs without proper medical consultation could damage women's health.

On Friday, a day after the court ruling, a group of pharmacists issued a statement urging the government to legalize the use of Mifegyne.

Mifegyne, first approved in France in 1998, is a typical form of abortion pill. It is said to be 95 percent effective when used within the first 49 days of pregnancy.

The Association of Pharmacists for Healthy Society (APHS) said the ruling is still insufficient for women who want to have safe abortions, requesting the government legalize abortion-related services, including approval of abortive drugs in terms of broadening women's choice and right to a safe abortion.

"Mifegyne is currently available in 69 countries including the U.S., Australia and Sweden, after the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the pill as an essential medicine for abortion in 2005. However, it is still illegal in Korea although people can easily find online stores selling the pill," the APHS said.

The association pointed out that illegal use of the abortion pill, which now some women here use, could only cause serious health effects. Some serious side effects include heavy vaginal bleeding, bacterial infection and birth defects if the pregnancy is not ended.

"It is not confirmed whether the pills sold online are fake pills or not," the association said.

It claimed the government should legalize the pill as soon as possible so that the purchase and use of the drug can be under government control, and so women can take the pills under direction from healthcare providers.

However, some doctors raise concerns about the abrupt legalization of the drugs, claiming that indiscreet use of them could cause side effects such as incomplete miscarriage.

The Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (KAOG) President Kim Dong-seok said users should check with a doctor before taking such medicine because it is only effective in the early stages of pregnancy.

"Possible side effects are incomplete miscarriage, partial detachment of the placenta, and anemia from vaginal bleeding, and these can lead immediately to infertility," Kim said.

Kim also said even after legalization, patients should take the pill at a hospital under doctors' supervision, so they would not bring it home and take it in a later stage of pregnancy. Post-treatment care is also necessary for patients' health, the president added.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said it is too early to discuss the drug's legalization, as the abortion ban is still valid until the end of next year, the deadline by which the National Assembly is required to revise the law according to the Constitutional Court's decision.

"The ministry will be able to begin reviewing the usage of abortive drugs after the law is completely revised and pharmaceutical companies request the drug approval," said Kim Sang-bong, a chief director of the ministry's pharmaceutical policy bureau. "For now it is still too early to make any progress."



By Bahk Eun-ji

Following the recent historic Constitutional Court decision against the nation's 66-year-old abortion ban, calls are rising on the government to legalize the sale of abortive drugs, such as a well-known one, Mifegyne.

A pharmacists' group calls for government's approval for Mifegyene, an abortion drug, following the Constitutional Court's decision to lift the abortion ban, while a doctors' group raises concerns over possible side effects. /Korea Times file
But some others express a more cautious approach for the sales permission, because misuse or abuse of the drugs without proper medical consultation could damage women's health.

On Friday, a day after the court ruling, a group of pharmacists issued a statement urging the government to legalize the use of Mifegyne.

Mifegyne, first approved in France in 1998, is a typical form of abortion pill. It is said to be 95 percent effective when used within the first 49 days of pregnancy.

The Association of Pharmacists for Healthy Society (APHS) said the ruling is still insufficient for women who want to have safe abortions, requesting the government legalize abortion-related services, including approval of abortive drugs in terms of broadening women's choice and right to a safe abortion.

"Mifegyne is currently available in 69 countries including the U.S., Australia and Sweden, after the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the pill as an essential medicine for abortion in 2005. However, it is still illegal in Korea although people can easily find online stores selling the pill," the APHS said.

The association pointed out that illegal use of the abortion pill, which now some women here use, could only cause serious health effects. Some serious side effects include heavy vaginal bleeding, bacterial infection and birth defects if the pregnancy is not ended.

"It is not confirmed whether the pills sold online are fake pills or not," the association said.

It claimed the government should legalize the pill as soon as possible so that the purchase and use of the drug can be under government control, and so women can take the pills under direction from healthcare providers.

However, some doctors raise concerns about the abrupt legalization of the drugs, claiming that indiscreet use of them could cause side effects such as incomplete miscarriage.

The Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (KAOG) President Kim Dong-seok said users should check with a doctor before taking such medicine because it is only effective in the early stages of pregnancy.

"Possible side effects are incomplete miscarriage, partial detachment of the placenta, and anemia from vaginal bleeding, and these can lead immediately to infertility," Kim said.

Kim also said even after legalization, patients should take the pill at a hospital under doctors' supervision, so they would not bring it home and take it in a later stage of pregnancy. Post-treatment care is also necessary for patients' health, the president added.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said it is too early to discuss the drug's legalization, as the abortion ban is still valid until the end of next year, the deadline by which the National Assembly is required to revise the law according to the Constitutional Court's decision.

"The ministry will be able to begin reviewing the usage of abortive drugs after the law is completely revised and pharmaceutical companies request the drug approval," said Kim Sang-bong, a chief director of the ministry's pharmaceutical policy bureau. "For now it is still too early to make any progress."



Bahk Eun-ji ejb@koreatimes.co.kr


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