Richard Hausknecht, MD: A Pioneer in Medication Abortion

Dr. Hausknecht died in October 2008.

When it became apparent that mifepristone wasn’t going to be available in the United States soon enough for his tastes, PRCH Board member Richard Hausknecht, MD, started thinking of alternative drugs that could be used for medication abortion. There were a few possibilities, but methotrexate stood out: It had already been proven effective at reducing placental tumors and was FDA-approved for several purposes. “It didn’t take a huge leap of imagination, since I had already used it to treat early tubal pregnancies,” says the ob/gyn, who practices in New York City.

In the more than five years since then, Dr. Hausknecht has performed about 3,000 abortions using methotrexate and the prostaglandin misoprostol, with an overall success rate of more than 97%. Now medical director of Danco (the company licensed to bring mifepristone to the U.S.), Dr. Hausknecht believes we are close to finally making nonsurgical abortion available in this country. “Half a million women worldwide have been successfully treated with mifepristone,” says Dr. Hausknecht. “American women deserve to have access to this option as well.”

Dr. Hausknecht believes mifepristone should be available in the U.S. because the drug would be FDA-approved specifically for providing abortions and because methotrexate abortions take longer and can involve more discomfort. In addition to its use as an abortifacient, Dr. Hasuknecht praises mifepristone for its non-abortifacient role in such areas as the treatment of inoperable brain tumors (meningioma) and in the treatment of ovarian and uterine cancers.

Dr. Hausknecht received his medical degree at Tufts University and completed a residency at Yale Medical Center in 1960. Like many physicians, seeing women die from criminal abortions has had an enormous impact on his career as a physician and as an advocate. “Abortion is stuck in a corner,” says Dr. Hausknecht, who is a founding member of PRCH. “It should always be a part of general reproductive healthcare.”

In a medical career that has spanned more than 40 years, Dr. Hausknecht has held staff positions at Mount Sinai Medical Center and Elmhurst City Hospital, and his academic positions have brought him to Yale, Columbia, Mount Sinai and the Albany College of Medicine. Dr. Hausknecht has also served as a fellow in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and on the Medical Advisory Board of Planned Parenthood of New York City.

Getting more physicians to care about providing abortions is something Dr. Hausknecht encourages through teaching and lecturing. In addition to his work with medication abortion, he has devoted a large part of the last six years to education (Dr. Hausknecht is the co-author of PRCH’s Manual Vacuum Aspiration Slide and Lecture Presentation), and he has lectured across the country on early abortion techniques. “By itself, no drug will be able to integrate abortion into mainstream medicine,” says Dr. Hausknecht. “We have to teach young physicians that pregnancy termination is a critical part of overall reproductive healthcare.”