The Health Ministry on Saturday banned the use of a controversial abortion pill for women who are regular smokers or are older than 35.
The ministry also ordered a reduction in the amount of a hormone used in conjunction with the pill, because of heart problems that can be caused by the hormone. Use of the pill alone is not allowed in France.The decision to limit use of the pill, known as RU-486, followed the death last month of a 31-year-old woman known to be a heavy smoker. It was the first death in about 60,000 abortions involving the treatment since it became available in France two years ago.
The woman died of a heart attack after being injected with synthetic prostaglandin, the hormone given in association with the pill. She had 11 children and the pregnancy was her 13th.
Following the recommendations of two committees of experts, the Health Ministry said the RU-486-prostaglandin treatment can no longer be given to women who have been regular smokers for more than two years. It also said women who have smoked less than that should avoid smoking in the days preceding the treatment and on the day of the treatment.
There were no figures available on what percentage of the women who have had abortions with the pill treatment were regular smokers or over 35.
The ministry ordered a 50 percent reduction in the amount of protaglandin used in the treatment. It did not say whether that would make the pill less effective.
The pill by itself is 80 percent effective in terminating pregnancies, and the prostaglandin makes the treatment 95 percent effective.
Roussel-Uclaf, the company that makes the pill, had warned a year ago about risk factors associated with the treatment - including smoking and age - after two women who used it suffered heart attacks.
The treatment must be carried out in a certified center or hospital.
France is the only country where the abortion pill is currently available. China has approved RU-486 but hasn't made it available, and Britain is studying its use. The pill is banned in the United States.