Japan's health ministry approved Friday for the first time the sale of an oral abortion pill, giving women in early pregnancy an alternative to the surgical procedure.

The pill, called Mefeego Pack developed by British pharmaceutical company Linepharma International Ltd., can terminate a pregnancy of up to 9 weeks of gestation, and is considered safer than the surgical abortions that have been used hereto.

Photo shows oral abortion pill Mefeego Pack, developed by the British pharmaceutical company Linepharma International Ltd. (Photo courtesy of Linepharma)(Kyodo)

Mefeego is a two-drug combination of mifepristone, which blocks a pregnancy hormone, and misoprostol, taken 36 to 48 hours later to stimulate uterine contractions.

Until now, only surgery was approved for early-term abortions, but the method of removing tissues with medical instruments was criticized as risking harming the uterus.

Because Mefeego's possible side effects include abdominal pain and bleeding, women who take the pill must stay in hospital until the abortion is confirmed by doctors.

To ensure the drug's thorough management, pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions are also asked to give monthly reports to their local medical associations on the number of pills that have been sold and used.

The World Health Organization includes the medication on the list of essential drugs for abortion, and has promoted the abortion pill as a safe alternative. Oral abortion pills are used world-wide, with France having approved them more than 30 years ago.

Mefeego Pack is available in 80 countries, according to Linepharma International.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare approved it under the country's maternal health law, whose purpose is to protect the lives and health of pregnant people related to induced abortions and sterilizations.

The nation's first abortion pill has elicited considerable interest, over greater choice for women, its possible side effects and price.

Mefeego's manufacturing and marketing was approved by a health ministry panel last week after the ministry received around 12,000 public comments.

There were 126,174 abortions in Japan in fiscal 2021, according to the health ministry.

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