The State Drug Adminis-tration yesterday reiterated its ban on drugstores selling Mifepristone, commonly known as the abortion pill.
The drug, which prevents the development of progesterone needed to sustain a fetus, is used to per-form abortions within the first 49 days of pregnancy.
While the drug is manufactured and used legally at hospitals around the country, officials are concerned about a growing number of people buying Mifepristone from pharmacies or underground abortion clinics, which may lead to serious side effects.
"As far as I know, no local drugstores sell Mifepristone, but we have sent urgent notices to all drugstores in order to guarantee public safety," said Xu Zhou, spokesman for the Shanghai Drug Administration.
The notices say the drug can only be used under doctors' care at a certified hospital and cannot be sold at a pharmacy even if the patient has a prescription.
An informal survey of local pharmacies by Shanghai Daily found no stores in the city selling the abortion drug.
"Mifepristone has been strictly controlled by the Family Planning Drug and Tool Management Station, which distributes it to hospitals only," said Xu Jinxun, of the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Population and Family Planning. "Any Mifepristone available in the open market is illegal." Mifepristone, which was invented by French scientist Etienne-Emile Baulieu in 1980, began clinical trials in China in 1991.
Because the drug can cause side effects, the Shanghai Health Bureau stipulated three years ago that only select hospitals can use Mifepristone, but under-ground clinics still use the drug to perform abortions.
"Intake of the drug without doctor's guidance can cause uterus bleeding, which may endanger the health of pregnant women," said Dr. Xu Jinglong, of Shanghai Maternity Hospital. Among the city's 400 hospitals, only 100 have the right to terminate early pregnancies.
As medical abortions are most effective early in a pregnancy, doctors determine the precise age of a fetus through ultrasound testing before using the drug, Xu said. Doctors are also needed as dosage varies among patients.
"Patients can't leave the hospital until the complete passage of the pregnancy. Usually, the whole procedure takes two days," Xu said.