Cynthia Pappas, executive director, said the organization's board of directors decided to offer the service to provide women with an option for terminating a pregnancy at home.

Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon plans to offer medication-induced abortions at its clinics in Ashland and Eugene beginning sometime in March.

Cynthia Pappas, executive director, said the organization's board of directors decided to offer the service to provide women with an option for terminating a pregnancy at home. She noted that local doctors who perform surgical abortions are nearing retirement age, and Planned Parenthood wanted to make sure women would have access to the full range of reproductive health care, including terminating a pregnancy.

In a medication-induced abortion, drugs expel the fetus from the womb. The drugs can be used only through the first nine weeks of pregnancy. Pappas said the federal Food and Drug Administration approved their use in 2000, and they have been available at other Planned Parenthood clinics in metropolitan Portland.

"The reason people choose medication abortions is they can do this in the privacy of their own home," she said. "That's very important to some of our clients."

An exact date for starting the service has not been set, Pappas said in a telephone interview Tuesday. Based in Eugene, she supervises Planned Parenthood's activities for 28,000 clients in an eight-county region, including Jackson and Josephine counties.

A medication-induced abortion differs from the "morning after pill," which prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, and is used as emergency contraception after intercourse.

Pappas acknowledged that the new service could be controversial, given the strong opinions on both sides of the abortion issue.

"There will likely be people who are upset about this extension of our service offerings," she said.

One of those is Bryan Platt, a Jackson County abortion opponent and Right to Life activist, who said the decision was "a sad day" for Southern Oregon.

"How does that benefit the community?" he asked.

He said offering drug-induced abortions would encourage women to end their pregnancy. "If a woman can't get to an abortion clinic, sometimes that's all it takes for her to keep her baby.

"The community ought to be outraged," Platt said, noting that demonstrations against Planned Parenthood would be "unavoidable."

"I've already sent out an e-mail to our Right to Life list," he said. "It's very discouraging."

Pappas said the new service is one of many that Planned Parenthood provides, including pregnancy testing and counseling for women who are pregnant. She said the counseling includes discussion of options such as carrying the fetus to term, adoption and abortion.

"There are choices," she stressed.

In the past, women who chose to end a pregnancy were referred by Planned Parenthood to physicians for surgical abortion. That option still will be available, Pappas said.

Women who choose a medication abortion will have an ultrasound exam to determine the age of the fetus to make sure they are eligible for the procedure. They will return to Planned Parenthood for a follow-up visit after the abortion is completed.

Pappas said state records indicate 536 women in Jackson County chose to terminate a pregnancy in 2007, the most recent year for which data is available. She said Planned Parenthood does not keep follow-up data on clients who are referred to physicians for an abortion consultation, so it's impossible to say how many procedures were initiated through Planned Parenthood or other sources.

She said at least half of American women at some point in their reproductive life experience an unintended pregnancy. Of those, about one-third will choose to terminate their pregnancy.

"I think that what is most important is that whether abortion is legal or not people will seek abortion who have that need," she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Bill Kettler at 541-776-4492, or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.