The meeting will focus on two bacterial infections one linked to the four women and another linked to less controversial outbreaks that occurred in hospitals and nursing homes.
The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are convening the conference, to take place at the CDC in Atlanta on May 11. It is open to the public, and registration must be received by April 15.
The daylong workshop will feature experts on Clostridium sordellii, related to the California deaths, and Clostridium difficile, which infected patients at hospitals and nursing homes and is unrelated to the abortion pill.
The primary goal of the workshop is to develop a draft research agenda, including crafting recommendations for detecting cases and conducting surveillance, according to the FDA.
The four California women, including Livermore teen Holly Patterson, died from toxic shock brought on by Clostridium sordelli just days after taking the abortion pill, sold under the brand name Mifeprex, and a follow-up drug called misoprostol.
While scientists and health officials have confirmed that the women shared the unusual bacterial infection, they are unsure how they contracted it and whether it is related to Mifeprex.
Dr. Marc Fischer, medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Infection, who will speak at the workshop, has speculated that pregnancy, childbirth or abortion could predispose a small number of women to acquire the bacteria.
The FDA and the CDC will call on experts in immunology, epidemiology, gynecological infections and other relevant specialties to present information at the workshop, according to the FDA.
The meeting is sure to generate controversy and is being held in an auditorium at the CDC that has adequate security, according to the FDA.
Among the topics to be discussed is how the abortion pill is administered. Standard protocol among abortion providers differs from the one the FDA approved in 2000, when Mifeprex was legalized in this country.
Monty Patterson, Holly's father, has campaigned since her death in 2003 for more research on RU-486 and ultimately hopes it will be banned.
"I look forward to the final outcome that (will) conclusively inform the medical community that RU-486 is not in the best interest of women as a choice for early medical abortion," Patterson wrote in an e-mail.
More than 460,000 doses of Mifeprex have been sold to abortion providers in the United States since its approval, according to the manufacturer Danco Labs. In addition, more than 500,000 women in 35 countries have taken the abortion pill.