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Pregnancy is not a disease

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Monday, 24 July 2006

Tired of waiting for a drug company to apply to import the abortion drug RU486, the international abortion clinic chain Marie Stopes, is going to use 90 pregnant women for a trial of a toxic anti-cancer drug in its Sydney clinic next month.

Taking a “disease model” approach to pregnancy, the clinic will combine one of the most dangerous anti-cancer drugs on the market with an anti-ulcer drug, to induce abortion in women up to seven weeks pregnant.

Will the Sydney women be told what they could be in for? My research on abortion over a long period gives me no cause to hope they will be fully informed.


Methotrexate is so hazardous it is given five pages in the US Physicians Desk Reference - most other drugs get a half page. Its side-effects are so “severely toxic” they are only considered justified to fight cancers and “disabling disease”. Yet it is to be inflicted on healthy pregnant women and healthy embryos.

Methotrexate and the anti-ulcerant misoprostol haven’t even been approved for abortion. They are being used “off label” despite manufacturers warnings against use in pregnant women.

Methotrexate works by blocking the essential vitamin folic acid. Women receive an injection of the drug, then four tablets of misoprostol taken five days, later causing bleeding and contractions.

According to the patient drug information on the Internet drug index RXlist, methotrexate can have fatal side effects. “Therefore, this medication should be used only to treat cancer or severe diseases …”

Is pregnancy a “severe disease”? No, but it’s being treated like it: a malignant mass to be obliterated by a teratogenic drug injected into women up to three times before it takes effect - which could take weeks.

Methotrexate is known to have the potential to damage human DNA. Cancer sufferers are warned the risk of genetic abnormalities may persist after discontinuing it.


Earlier studies have been criticised for using women and not animals first, and being ethically flawed because they failed to follow proper informed consent procedures.

The AMA’s Dr David Molloy, says "It's a major anti-cancer drug which has a wide range of toxic and at times lethal side effects, but it's not the sort of drug you would want to have unless you really had to have it".

One of the biggest problems with Methotrexate is the delay between injection and termination.

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About the Author

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation ( Melinda blogs at

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