An abortion drug recently approved by the federal government that provides a nonsurgical way to terminate pregnancies continues to fuel controversy on the local level. The Food and Drug Administration approved the abortion drug mifeprestone, or RU-486, on Thursday. The pill allows a woman to have an abortion without traditional invasive procedures by terminating the fetus and then helping the body to expel it. Kaye Michaels, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Orange and Durham counties, said she is overjoyed that women in the area have a new choice. "It's just another option for women seeking an abortion," she said. But even though the FDA has approved the drug, Michaels said Planned Parenthood will not offer it in the area until sometime next year to ensure that its employees are aware of all the dangers and advantages of the drug. "We already do extensive counseling, but this is a little different," she said. "There is a little more education going on." During a woman's first visit to the clinic, the FDA requires her to obtain counseling to receive the first dose of the drug, which blocks a hormone necessary for the pregnancy to continue. The patient returns a few days later to receive the final pill to expel the fetus. After a woman aborts the fetus, she must go to her doctor again for a checkup to ensure the fetus has been completely removed. The only restriction for this type of abortion is that women must have completed the procedure by the seventh week of their pregnancy, Michaels said. But Barbara Holt, president of Right to Life, a local chapter of the anti-abortion lobbying group, said the drug can cause problems for women and for future pregnancies. "In addition to killing the baby, it poses great health risks," Holt said. "It's not just a simple little drug." Holt said the drug can cause severe uterine hemorrhaging, and there is also a risk of future infertility. The FDA Web site states that this occurred in 1 percent of patients in clinical trials. Although the drug has been available in France since 1988, certain obstacles kept it from U.S. consumers. Holt said the Bush administration banned importation of the drug in 1992, and delays in FDA clinical trials further hindered the approval process. The FDA has even mandated that patients receiving the drug must undergo more educational counseling than those undergoing traditional abortion procedures. Physicians are required to give patients a booklet explaining the procedure and other pregnancy options. Holt said that although she thinks the new procedure is more private, she says the drug will cause more emotional pain for women. "Now the woman will see the aborted baby," she said. "It's going to cause more trauma. She's going to have to deal with that. It's turning it all back on her." Michaels said the drug gives a woman greater privacy and control over the abortion decision. But Mary Schlegel, director of Women's Health at UNC's Student Health Service, said the drug is no more private than traditional abortions. "People have the idea that it will be secret, but doctors still have to report the abortions to the state," she said. Schlegel said SHS will not offer the new drug and does not provide any abortions because of stringent N.C. clinic restrictions. She also said students seeking a medical abortion would be referred to UNC Hospitals or Planned Parenthood. "(SHS) couldn't meet current North Carolina abortion clinic standards," she said. "We would just be able to refer patients." Michaels said she is not sure what the cost of abortion by RU-486 will be at Planned Parenthood clinics but speculated the price would rise because of more visits and counseling. Michaels said the cost of a traditional procedure is $275, and Planned Parenthood will still offer reduced rates for college students undergoing either procedure. Schlegel said the rules and regulations attached to the drug are going to make it too expensive for many clinics to offer. "The FDA will make it very hard," she said. "It's going to become financially unavailable." But Michaels said the bottom line is choice. "The important thing is that women now have one more option." The City Editor can be reached at email@example.com.