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Little fuss locally over abortion pill

September 29, 2000

Little fuss locally over abortion pill



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / STAFF WRITER


The head of a Hagerstown clinic that performs abortions said Friday she doesn't expect to see a rash of abortions now that the Federal Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the controversial abortion pill RU-486.

A Jefferson County, W.Va., gynecologist said he will offer the pill to his patients who ask for it.

A Franklin County, Pa., physician said the new pill should have no effect on abortions there because no doctors perform them in the county.

Diane Silas, director of Hagerstown Reproductive Services on West Washington Street, said RU-486 merely gives women one more choice.

"Women will continue to end their pregnancies as before ... when pregnancy is a tragedy and not a blessing," Silas said.

Opponents and proponents of the FDA's decision to approve RU-486, which has been widely used in Europe since 1988, say it will make abortion more accessible and more private.

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Still, Silas said, "It's an unpleasant five-day process with lots of cramping. It will be more desirable for some but less for others."

Silas said the clinic draws occasional protests outside its doors, usually in the form of two men who quietly walk along the sidewalk with signs. A spokesman at the clinic said there was no increase in protesters Thursday when the news broke that the pill had cleared its final hurdle.

Dr. Robert Parker, health officer at the Washington County Health Department, said the agency doesn't provide abortion services nor will it start with the so-called abortion pill.

"It's just another avenue for ending a pregnancy," Parker said. "I don't see it promoting abortions as a procedure."

The pill is expected to be available to doctors within a month.

Typically, when a new drug is introduced to the market, representatives from drug companies visit doctors to explain its benefits, officials at local clinics and hospitals said. They often provide doctors with samples of new medication they can give patients, they said.

It's doubtful RU-486 will be handled that way, given the controversy that has surrounded the drug, said Sanford Smith, a pharmacist at Smith's Drug in Waynesboro, Pa.

"I am unaware if or when it will be available," said Tom Shevock, chief pharmacist at the CVS Pharmacy in downtown Hagerstown.

Although officials at some Tri-State area hospitals say it could take up to a year for them to receive the drug if it is requested by doctors, Smith said he could have it immediately.

"If the wholesaler is going to stock it, we could have it within 24 hours," he said.

Smith said he would not be surprised if there is secrecy over where RU-486 will be manufactured in the country.

"I don't know if I would want to be the first company to come out with it. It could affect your stock, it could affect your employees," Smith said.

Some pharmacies contacted in Berkeley and Jefferson Counties in West Virginia would not comment on the distribution of RU-486.

Whether any physician requests the drug will probably be the determining factor in whether City Hospital obtains RU-486, said hospital spokeswoman Teresa McCabe.

But McCabe said she could not think of any reason why the hospital would have RU-486, adding that the dispensing of the drug will mostly be handled by abortion clinics or physicians.

Even if there was a request for the drug, the hospital would typically wait until a post-market surveillance data survey is done to determine what kind of reaction a new medicine has had on patients, McCabe said.

A manager at Tuscarora Family Practice in Mercersburg, Pa., which specializes in gynecology, declined to say whether there have been any requests for RU-486. The center did not want to comment for fear of "upsetting somebody or offending somebody," the manager said.

Dr. Sohael Raschid, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Chambersburg Hospital in Chambersburg, Pa., said Franklin County "is always conservative when it comes to abortion." Physicians there refer patients seeking abortions to Hagerstown or Harrisburg, Pa., he said.

"The pill won't make any difference here," he said.

Staff writers Marlo Barnhart and Dave McMillion contributed to this story.

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