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A controversial drug that can end pregnancy without surgery faces a crucial deadline this week as U.S. health officials weigh whether to permit the sale of the abortion pill best known as RU-486.

The Food and Drug Administration must decide by Saturday whether to approve, reject or ask for more information about the pill, according to abortion-rights groups and the drug's distributor.

Supporters have been trying to bring the pill, also known as mifepristone, to the U.S. market for more than a decade. The drug made its debut in France in 1988 and now is sold throughout Europe, in China and elsewhere.

But pressure from groups that oppose abortion has helped scuttle mifepristone's U.S. entry in the past.

"American women need to know it will take the life of their unborn child, and there is a serious health risk for themselves," said Laura Echevarria, a spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee.

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