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RU-486: THE ABORTION BATTLE'S NEW FRONTIER : Dr. Grimes' Bitter Pill : Medicine: Is the abortion pill a vital drug worth testing, as Dr. David Alan Grimes, its best-known U.S. researcher, insists? Or is it, as opponents say, a 'human pesticide?'


Psychic Makes Baby Vanish Before Birth --Front-page headline in the Sun, a tabloid


RU-486 is the most exciting new drug we've had in fertility control since the development of the birth control pill three decades ago. It opens entire new vistas, with benefits far beyond reproductive medicine, ranging from treatment of endometriosis to breast cancer."

Dr. David A. Grimes

USC School of Medicine


"There will be serious resistance to RU-486. The drug companies are well aware of the political, medical and legal risks. With the first misadventure they will be sued out of their shoes. This drug has not been sufficiently tested and will not be for another 20 years."

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Cornell University Medical College

Depending on your reproductive politics, Dr. David Alan Grimes is either a mass murderer or a brilliant, ethic-driven scientist. He's either a courageous humanist who risks his livelihood and conceivably his life for others--or a twisted, soulless technician comparable to Nazi death camp physician Joseph Mengele. That there is very little opinion in between is a reflection of the hot seat he occupies.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 22, 1990 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Dr. Daniel R. Mishell--A story in today's View section incorrectly describes Dr. Daniel R. Mishell as head of the University of Southern California. In fact, Mishell is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, USC School of Medicine.

Grimes is North America's best-known researcher on RU-486, the French-made abortion drug that opponents call "the death pill," "the chemical coat hanger," "the human pesticide" and "the Dalkon Shield of the '90s."

He works at the only place in the country that has tested the drug as an abortion-inducing medication: Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center's Women's Hospital.

But the clinical trials have recently been suspended there after nearly six years of research. Involving almost 400 Southern California women, the studies ended in mid-February after Roussel-Uclaf, the Paris-based manufacturer of the drug, decided to stop supplying it.

"The reason," says Ariel Mouttet, Roussel-Uclaf's international product manager for RU-486, "is because we think public and political opinion in the States is not ready to accept either abortion or 486. Testing means nothing if we don't plan to market 486 in the States. We will resume testing it in the States when the debate and the climate on abortion has been resolved."

But a lack of pills hasn't slowed Grimes. Considered by some to be the country's leading gynecologist/epidemiologist, he is also an expert on sexually transmitted diseases and an authority on high-tech contraceptives, some so sophisticated that he says husbands may not even know their wives are using them. (Norplant, a hormone-releasing device embedded under the skin of the upper arm, is expected to win FDA approval by the end of the year.)

An international lecturer and professor in both USC's departments of Preventive Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynecology, Grimes is a busy guy. If anything, given the growing national clamor for information on RU-486, demands on his time have increased since the pill studies stopped. One might expect him to be tense.

So what is the Harvard-educated research scholar doing with a tawdry tabloid in his slide show tonight?

Business as usual, it turns out. Grimes owns a whole collection of supermarket scandal-sheet pages, visual Napalm he occasionally drops into serious speeches when he wants to make a big point.

He and other medical school professors have long employed joke slides to keep overworked students from falling asleep in lectures. But Grimes truly relishes the incongruity of an academic quoting the tabloids. He takes his heavy artillery with him on the road.

This April evening, on his own time, Grimes is engaged in what he terms "consciousness-raising" for about 60 members of the Show Coalition, a political networking group for the entertainment industry which frequently invites governors, congressmen, cabinet members and other big-time policy makers to speak at its gatherings.

Speaking from the living room of an elegant West L.A. condo owned by Lila Garrett, head of comedy development for Aaron Spelling Productions, Grimes is earnestly sharing his expectations for RU-486. He predicts it will prove such a boon to world health that it will one day win the Nobel Prize for its inventor--his hero--Dr. Etienne-Emile Baulieu of France. (Baulieu has already won America's most prestigious medical accolade, the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award, for his work on steroid hormones--which led to his discovery of RU-486 in 1980; 46 Lasker winners have gone on to receive Nobels.)

Grimes points out that RU-486 has been judged safe for human testing by the FDA. As for effectiveness, he says that when accompanied by a dose of prostaglandin, which causes uterine contractions, RU-486 has, in recent studies throughout the world, proved successful for about 95% of women. Those for whom the method failed were offered traditional surgical abortions.

"I'm optimistic that RU-486 will eventually be marketed in America. It's safe, effective and popular," Grimes tells the attentive group, which appears to strongly favor abortion rights.

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