(I got the picture here from an Internet pharmacy which has the drug for sale under Searle's brand name, Cytotec.)
Misoprostol's use as a "morning after" pill was pioneered in Brazil, but it has other uses as well. In the U.S., for instance, it is frequently used to induce labor. (The illustration shows its use against ulcers, frequently caused by over-use of NSAIDs like aspirin.)
You may argue over whether such "emergency contraceptives" or "medical abortions" are ethical. That is not the issue. The issue is that they are private. Some can be obtained from a clinic, others from a pharmacy.
Misoprostol may be the most important of these drugs because of its other uses, one of which is to help avoid complications from naturally-occurring miscarriages.
Plus, as Nicholas Kristof noted recently in The New York Times, misoprostol is cheap. In India it can be had for just pennies per pill, as opposed to $5 for a blister pack with mifepristone.
Enovid is about 50 years old, thus there are many editorial celebrations going on about it right now, including a PBS special. It was a revolution for people in America and the West, because it let women decide when they might have children. The sexual revolution followed.
But the pill is far from universal adoption. It must be taken daily, and many women forget. Many Americans oppose it, though the 1965 decision in Griswold vs. Connecticut -- usually cited as a privacy case, it was really about an 1879 law outlawing contraception -- means there is little they can do about it.
Misoprostol is not an American story. It's not being dispensed solely by pharmacists. It's not only useful for this purpose. And women who treat other women are being encouraged to see this as a sound way to save the lives of their patients.
In effect, it is one way that the debate over contraceptives is resolving itself.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com