Australia Family Planning Group Misuses Cancer Drug to Cause Abortions

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 30, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Australia Family Planning Group Misuses Cancer Drug to Cause Abortions

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 30
, 2007

Canberra, Australia ( — Marie Stopes International, a British-based abortion business, announced yesterday that it will move ahead more permanently with its decision to misuse an anti-cancer drug to cause abortions. The decision comes because there is no company in Australia licensed to sell the dangerous RU 486 abortion drug.

A Cairns abortion practitioner and Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne filed applications to sell the abortion drug locally.

However, because the drug is not available on a national basis, an MSI official said Tuesday they would use methotrexate at their NSW, Queensland and West Australian facilities.

Marie Stopes operations manager Jill Michelson said she would prefer to use RU 486, claiming it is safer, but said MSI can no longer wait on a company to sell it nationwide.

"We feel fairly comfortable that we can now spread that across Australia and, of course, as part of that we needed to ensure all our team members in each state were appropriately educated," she told the Herald Sun newspaper.

Methotrexate is not approved as an abortion drug and it is licensed in Australia for use as an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer treatment. Doctors, under Australian law, can use any drug for another purpose as long as the patient consent.

MSI tested the drugs in a pilot program involving 100 women in Sydney in August. Its top abortion practitioner Philip Goldstone told The West newspaper that none of the women suffered any complications other than diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

While MSI appears to be putting women at risk, other abortion practitioners aren’t following their lead.

Despite MSI’s decision, Ian Roberts, from East Melbourne’s Fertility Control Clinic, said other facilities are not going to use methotrexate because there is a danger that they would cause incomplete abortions and result in babies born with physical disabilities.

"You need a very compliant patient to come back otherwise you are opening the gates . . . to the possibility of congenital deformities," Roberts told the Sun newspaper.

Also, officials at Royal Women’s Hospital said they are not considering using methotrexate to cause abortions while waiting for their RU 486 abortion to be approved by the nation’s drug agency.

"We know it is not as safe and effective as RU 486," she said.

However, even the well-known abortion drug, also referred to as mifepristone, has significant problems of its own.

Thirteen women from the United States, Canada, England, France and Sweden have died after using the abortion drug mifepristone. In several cases in the U.S. women contracted a lethal bacterial virus shortly after using it.

FDA figures show that, in the United States alone, more than 1,050 women have had medical problems after using the abortion drug. In addition to the deaths there have been nine life-threatening incidents, 116 blood transfusions, and 232 hospitalizations.

Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal said in July he is concerned about the off-label use of the drug.

"A drug that’s being used for a purpose that it’s not registered, it would certainly cause significant concern," he said. "Because obviously there is a license for which the drug is there to be used for, and if it’s used for other things it then becomes problematic."

"You’ve got to have a scientific basis for using it and need to make sure processes are properly adhered to because then that gives patients some degree of security about what’s going on and it gives some protection for the doctor who’s using that medication," he explained

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Ken Clark said methotrexate is an "experimental option" and needs to be approved before its used.

Also, Monash University chairman of obstetrics and gynecology David Healy told The Age that methotrexate was "best left as a cancer medicine."

The MSI trial results also differ with those of another abortion practitioner.

Geoff Brodie, the medical director of Australian Birth Control Services, did 60 abortions using the methotrexate drug and reported earlier last year that two of the women needed surgical abortions because the drug failed to work properly.

Abortion practitioners have also misused misoprostol, also called Cytotec, to cause abortions. The maker of that drug, Searle, has issued warnings in both the United States and Australia that the misuse is dangerous for women.