Yale Approves RU-486 as UHS Evaluation Persists

Yale students facing unwanted pregnancies will now be able to obtain the controversial abortion pill RU-486 through their student health care plan, while those at Harvard seeking the same treatment await a decision from University Health Services (UHS).

Legal in Europe since 1988 and approved by the Federal Drug Association on Sept. 29, 2000, RU-486 works by inducing a miscarriage and requires three different visits to a doctor over a two-week period.

Yale University Health Services (YUHS) introduced its policy last month. Officials say they are confident that doctors will be able to dispense the drug safely and effectively.

UHS is currently in the process of evaluating the drug and deciding on the ways it could be offered to students.

"Our anticipation is that we'll be able to work out a method that is appropriate and safe," said Dr. Christopher M. Coley, chief of medicine at UHS.

Doctors must decide whether the pill should be offered directly through UHS or through another health institution, such as Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Coley said Dr. M. Susan Schilling, who is affiliated with both UHS and Brigham and Women's, is exploring how the two institutions could cooperate in carrying out the treatment.

UHS does not currently perform surgical abortions on-site. Instead, students are referred to local clinics, and the procedure is partially subsidized through the Student Health Services fee.

From a financial standpoint, Coley said he expects that RU-486 would be covered in the same way as any other means of abortion.

"I don't see how you can treat it any differently financially," he said.

He added that UHS also wants to develop a clear education plan regarding RU-486, such as the one that currently accompanies the "morning-after pill."

In order to work correctly, the drug must be taken within the first seven weeks of pregnancy.

Side effects can include cramping and bleeding. One in 100 women end up needing surgery as a result of heavy bleeding.

The drug has also failed to complete abortions in five percent of cases, requiring a follow-up surgical procedure.

In light of these possible complications, Coley said UHS wants to ensure that it comes up with the safest system possible to deal with the treatment.

Coley said UHS aims to reach a decision on the administration of RU-486 within the next month.

--Staff writer Heather B. Long can be reached at hblong@fas.harvard.edu.