Development of an oral method of inducing a spontaneous abortion has been long awaited. Although available in France, RU 486 is still not approved in the United States.

Yes. RU 486 has been shown to be both safe and effective for inducing early abortion. It's true that prolonged or heavy bleeding can occur with this type of abortion, as it can with spontaneous miscarriage, which it simulates. But that poses no unique challenges for the physician.

Claims that the drug causes deformity in babies have not been established. But with any abortion, it should be understood that once it's begun, it should be completed.

The drug's greatest usefulness probably lies in the developing world. There's a terrible worldwide tragedy in maternal mortality related to illegal abortions. The World Health Organization estimates that about 200,000 women die annually from complications.

If a drug like RU 486 were available to women around the world when they find themselves with an early, unwanted pregnancy, they wouldn't need to resort to having their abdomens pummeled or putting sticks into their uterus.

The drug has also been shown in monkey studies to be very effective in treating endometriosis -- the growth of tissue in abnormal locations.

Etienne-Emile Baulieu, the developer of RU 486, has received the prestigious Lasker award. That is a strong affirmation of his work by the scientific community. -- David Alan Grimes Professor of obstetrics and gynecology and professor of preventive medicine, University of Southern California

No. The tight controls under which RU 486 was tested -- prostaglandin shots if a woman didn't abort after two days, and then a dilation and curettage -- won't be replicated in private practice. Some won't take the pill correctly; others won't come back for the shot. In the Third World, this pill will cause many deaths. Girls who take it will go back to their villages to bleed to death.

Also, it can cause severe fetal deformity via two separate mechanisms. As a progesterone antagonist, it blocks use of that vital nutrient hormone while vital organs are forming. Second, this drug is chemically similar to the anti-miscarriage drug diethylstilbestrol, which was found to cause cancers later in life in daughters born to women who took it.

DES, too, can spin off a free radical that can combine in the uterus with fetal DNA and maybe even maternal DNA. It can then deform the child -- and perhaps, like DES, become a chemical time bomb 15 or 20 years later. Molecular biochemists shudder at this. One child already has been born dead with severe deformities -- fusing of both lower extremities.

The release form French women sign specifically exempts the company and the French government from liability for a deformed child. There will be women who will change their minds and carry to term. There will be many women in the Third World who do not have the clinics, the prostaglandin shots and the D&C, who will carry to term. We will end up with severe fetal deformities.

It's a shocking disgrace that a previously prestigious group would honor a man for perfecting a form of chemical warfare on the unborn. And medically it's a goof. In the face of the drug's probable complications, the award is scientifically nai ve. RU 486 is likely to self-destruct because of its tendency to cause birth defects. -- John Willke President, National Right to Life Committee of the U.S.; retired from obstetrics and gynecology practice

1990, Physician's Weekly, a Whittle Communications Publication; reprinted with permission