Dr Joe DeCook notes that misoprostol has tremendous potential, "but it’s like morphine. It can be used for good or for evil." Furthermore, by placing it in the hands of unskilled people who offer it without follow-up care will have devastating effects on women.
By authorizing the use of a single drug, the World Health Organization has simultaneously raised hopes for saving thousands of mothers’ lives and raised fears that the drug will also be used to kill perhaps millions of unborn children. Misoprostol is used to help stop bleeding during delivery, the main cause of maternal deaths, but it can also be used to induce at-home abortions, which are very dangerous, particularly in rural areas that lack primary or emergency medical care.
The WHO’s decision is similar to Federal Drug Administration approval in the U.S., ensuring that the drug is legitimized for use without a doctor and that it will be stocked in pharmacies all over the world.
Another concern is that use of misoprostol causes birth defects. Gynuity’s own 2002 report shows that when misoprostol is used for abortion, the risk of birth defects increases, most commonly causing clubfoot, cranial nerve abnormalities, and absence of the fingers.
Maternal Life International (MLI) advised the WHO that approving the drug outside the hospital setting sets a double standard. “Women in resource limited settings are expected to give birth with unskilled or semi-skilled birth attendants,” MLI’s Dr. George Mulcaire-Jones said, “This fact alone leads to higher maternal and infant mortality rates than those in developed countries” and gives women “the false assurance that their deliveries will be ‘safe’.”
A quarter of all medical abortions fail and require medical attention in a hospital setting, DeCook said, and after seven weeks, risks to the life of the mother increase dramatically. “They may be able to show a decrease in the number of maternal mortalities because they will decrease the number of deliveries by abortion,” DeCook said, “but they will have no idea how many women will die in their wake.”