The French abortion pill RU486, which has yet to find a market abroad, received its first setback at home this spring when a woman died after taking it.
In response, the Health Ministry issued an order prohibiting women who smoke or are over 35 from using the pill and reduced by half the dose of a hormone taken in conjunction with RU486.The fatal heart attack was the first death in more than 60,000 abortions with the pill. It was attributed to the injection of the hormone, a synthetic prostaglandin that is part of the treatment. The pill must be administered at certified centers or hospitals.
RU486, an anti-progesterone made by Roussel-Uclaf, has been used in France for two years. China has approved the drug, but not commercialized it, and Britain is studying approval. The United States has banned the pill.
By itself, RU486 is 80 percent effective in terminating pregnancies. It is 95 percent effective when used with the prostaglandin.
Roussel-Uclaf had warned that the the prostaglandin, which goes by the trade name Nalador, was a risk to smokers. At least two non-fatal heart attacks preceded the March 23 death.
The woman who died was 31 years old and a heavy smoker. She had 11 children and was in her 13th pregnancy.