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Rising Stakes Over RU-486

Abortion Pill Has Its Backers, Foes and Victims

SYDNEY, Australia, DEC. 4, 2005 (Zenit) - The abortion pill RU-486 is causing divisions once more. Advocates of the drug, also referred to by its more technical names of Mifeprex or Mifepristone, are trying to obtain permission to use the pill in both Italy and Australia.

In Australia the abortion pill has been effectively banned by federal authorities. Since 1996, imports of the pill required specific approval from the health minister, which was routinely denied.

After recent pressure to allow a vote on lifting the restrictions, Prime Minister John Howard announced Tuesday that members of Parliament would have a free conscience vote on the matter, the Age newspaper reported Wednesday. The vote will likely occur next February.

Arguments in favor of RU-486 grew after the Australian Medical Association changed its policy and came out in support of its use, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Nov. 8.

The leader of the Australian Democrats Party, Lyn Allison, then announced her intention to introduce amendments to legislation which would remove current restrictions. The initiative on the part of the Australian Democrats, a small political party, received support from members within the two major parties, Liberal and Labor.

Opponents of the pill have pointed to health concerns over its use. In an opinion article published Nov. 12 in the Australian newspaper, Christopher Pearson noted that a number of women have died after using the drug.

"Adverse event"

The first reported fatality was in France in 1991, according to Pearson. He then noted that two deaths in Canada led the nation's officials in September 2001 to temporarily halt trials involving the drug. That same year, a 38-year-old woman from Tennessee died five days after taking the drug. In Sweden a 6-year-old girl died after being administered RU-486 in a hospital. And in January last year the British government announced two deaths attributed to RU-486.

In the United States a number of fatalities have been reported. There have been seven near-fatal cases of severe bacterial infection. Another 72 cases were recorded where blood transfusions were needed. In all, authorities have noted 676 "adverse event reports," according to Pearson.

He also noted that, according to preliminary advice provided to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, up to 10% of women who use RU-486 end up in a hospital having a dilation and curettage procedure.

Pro-woman

Opposition to the pill has also come from the Church. "RU-486 is a chemical response to the complex problems facing a woman who is pregnant in difficult circumstances. But it's not the solution," said Dr. Brigid Vout, executive officer for Sydney's archdiocesan Life Office to the Catholic Weekly, in the Nov. 20 issue of the weekly diocesan newspaper.

Dr. Catherine Lennon, president of Doctors for Life in the state of New South Wales, described RU-486 as a highly toxic "human pesticide." She noted that it causes severe physical deformities in babies who survive it and that serious physical and psychological damage can be done to women who are faced with delivering a baby of 6 to 12 weeks' development alone at home.

During a plenary meeting of the Australian Catholic bishops, held in Sydney, they issued a statement Nov. 25 regarding RU-486. "This chemical solution to a major social and personal problem is no solution at all," they stated.

Citing Pope John Paul II, the bishops argued that it is time for the community to become "radically pro-woman." "Multiplying the methods of abortion will only multiply the grief," they concluded.

Bacterial infections

More reports of problems with the pill have come out in recent months. On July 18 Reuters reported that the manufacturer of the drug, Danco Laboratories, admitted that five women who took the pill have died from bacterial infections since its U.S. introduction nearly five years ago. One of the deaths occurred in Canada.

Danco said it was sending a letter to alert physicians about the cases and updating warning information on the drug's label. The label already carries a warning about the possibility that women who take the drug could experience serious and sometimes fatal infections, according to Reuters.

The New York Times reported Nov. 23 that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has discovered that all four women who died in the United States after taking the abortion pill suffered from a rare and highly lethal bacterial infection.

All four deaths occurred in California, and the FDA undertook tests to see if abortion pills distributed there were contaminated. They were not, reported the New York Times. The FDA and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have now decided to convene a scientific meeting early next year to discuss the deaths.

According to the newspaper, the abortion pill has been used in more than 500,000 medical abortions in the United States since its approval in September 2000.

Following the latest reports U.S. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said that the FDA told him it would restrict sales of RU-486 if the deaths turned out to be linked to the drug, the Baltimore Sun reported Nov. 27. "Increasingly, they are aware that it is a dangerous drug," DeMint said in an interview.

Pressure in Italy

In Italy, the government restricts the importation of RU-486. But some regional authorities are pressuring to be allowed to use the drug. Hospitals in the Piedmont and Tuscany regions, and some in Rome, have come out in favor of using an administrative measure that would permit the importation of the pill in some circumstances, La Repubblica reported Nov. 15.

The newspaper also reported the opposition to this pressure. Italian Health Minister Francesco Storace complained about a sort of competition in some regional authorities, inspired by negative values, that is promoting abortion.

The Italian press has widely reported the resulting tug-of-war between the health minister and regional authorities. Since July contradictory reports have been published over plans by some hospitals to use the abortion pill, and the question remains unresolved.

A Sept. 22 article in the national newspaper La Stampa reported that Storace had signed an order prohibiting the use of the abortion pill, introduced for local use shortly beforehand by St. Ann's Hospital in Turin. But another report, in La Repubblica on Nov. 14, said that some government experts think the importation of the drug is still legally possible if authorized by hospital authorities.

The controversy over the abortion pill is further mixed with concern over the consulting centers in Italy that refer women for abortions. Pro-life groups and the Church are pressuring for the presence of pro-life representatives in the centers, to give women an alternative to abortion when they seek advice.

In a declaration dated Nov. 21, the Italian bishops noted the effort afoot to abolish rules that care for life from the moment of conception. They contended that the effort, purportedly done in the name of liberty and happiness, is a "tragic deception" that will only lead to slavery and unhappiness for those who build their future on the basis of subjective desires and technical means divorced from any ethical basis. A warning worth reflecting upon.

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RU-486, Abortion, Women

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