Taiwan on Thursday approved the sale of
the abortion pill RU-486, conceding that a ban on the drug had not
stopped women from taking it to end unwanted pregnancies.
The pill was approved to prevent women from taking the drug on
their own, risking excessive bleeding and other dangers, said
Health Administration Director Lee Ming-liang.
Thousands of women, mostly teen-agers, have illegally obtained
the pill from drug stores or on the Internet, Lee said.
Medical supervision is required to ensure safe use of the drug.
Two Taiwan women died and about 1,000 were treated for side effects
from using the drug last year, he told reporters.
In Asia, only Taiwan and China have approved use of RU-486.
The abortion pill causes contractions that expel an embryo from
the uterus. It can be given up to seven weeks after the start of
the last menstrual period.
Feminists and gynecologists had lobbied for its approval.
``We are concerned about the growing number of school girls
seeking abortions,'' said Yao Shu-mei, an executive of the Modern
Women Foundation. ``But you can't prevent abortions simply by
banning the drug.''
Adult Taiwanese women can get legal abortions simply by
persuading their doctors that a pregnancy could cause physical or
psychological harm. But girls under the age of 18 must obtain
Girls who do not want their parents to learn they are pregnant
often seek illegal abortions.
Approval of RU-486 appeared unlikely to change the situation
since under the new rules girls under 18 must still have parental
consent to obtain the drug from a doctor.
The government has yet to say what steps it will take to prevent
illegal sales of the drug.
About 50,000 abortions were performed under the national health
program last year. Gynecologists say the actual number is several