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the clinic that has been the flash point for so many abortion battles in Western New York -- will offer the newly approved RU-486 pill soon at its Main Street site, the clinic director announced Thursday.

"We should be able to offer it within six weeks," Melinda DuBois said, not long after the Food and Drug Administration approved use of the early-abortion method.

"Right now, we get about three calls a week asking for this service," she added. "It's such a relief that we're now going to be able to provide it."

Unbeknown to most people, RU-486 already has been available to a few women in Western New York. One local provider participated in tests of the pill.

Buffalo GYN Womenservices will be able to offer the new abortion method so soon because clinic officials already have developed the protocols -- or step-by-step medical procedures -- for providing the pill to their patients. The FDA approval had been expected for months.

It's too early to answer many of the questions about the local use of RU-486, now known by its chemical name, mifepristone. But several things already are clear:

The cost shouldn't be much different from that of the surgical method. If anything, it could be slightly more expensive.

"We haven't made a decision yet about cost, because we don't know what mifepristone will cost," DuBois said. "But it will be close to the same as a surgical abortion."

With no answers yet about possible Medicaid funding for the new procedure, it will be offered initially only to patients who pay up front.

Abortions can be done earlier in a pregnancy.

Buffalo GYN Womenservices now offers abortions starting at 4 1/2 weeks, up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. With the new method, abortions will be available as soon as possible after a pregnancy is detected, up to seven weeks of pregnancy.

The pill method won't be for everyone, even though it avoids surgery.

It will involve three steps, including the vaginal insertion of a hormone at home and two visits to the clinic, rather than the one now required.

"It means at least two visits to the clinic," DuBois said. "It means the person is going to have significant bleeding and cramping. We have to prepare the patient for this."

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