Feminist gives $10 million to women's groups Research on issues, abortion pill sought

October 03, 1991|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A $10 million donation, said to be the largest private gift ever made for women's causes, will be used as a down payment on a new feminist action program to enable women to "stop begging men for rights."

The money will be used, in part, to start a "feminist think tank" to do research on a wide range of issues affecting women's rights.

In addition, the gift will be used as initial funding for a direct-action campaign with a controversial first project: to bring the French abortion pill RU-486 to the United States, or to try to invent a substitute for it in U.S. laboratories.

The donor of the money is a wealthy Los Angeles theater producer and longtime feminist activist, Peg Yorkin. In disclosing her gift at a news conference here, Ms. Yorkin said the $10 million amounted to about one-fourth of her personal fortune.

Half of the donation has gone into an endowment, with the interest on investments to go to the Feminist Majority Foundation and a sister organization, the Fund for the Feminist Majority. Those two groups were founded by Eleanor Smeal, former president of the National Organization for Women, and Ms. Yorkin.

For years, Ms. Yorkin has been giving the Feminist Majority organizations money anonymously. She decided to go public with the $10 million gift because, she said, it could be "a wake-up call for women."

Urging other women with money to give to the cause of feminism, Ms. Yorkin told reporters here: "Playing politics with women's lives has become a game for the men in power. It is time for women to stop begging men for our rights. Money can turn our rage into direct action."

Ms. Smeal said her two organizations will use some of the donation to make a two-pronged effort to try to ensure that RU-486 is available for American women.

The drug, which can be administered in the privacy of a doctor's office, can be used not only to achieve early-term abortions, but also for treating a variety of diseases, including breast cancer.

Initially, Ms. Smeal said, small pharmaceutical companies in this country will be enlisted to form a consortium to seek licenses to produce and distribute RU-486 here. The drug is now available only in France and Britain.

Major U.S. drug companies, fearing a boycott that has been threatened by anti-abortion groups, have been unwilling to seek licensing for RU-486. The Food and Drug Administration, reacting to strong pressure from congressional conservatives, has banned the French drug's import.

If licensing is unavailable, Ms. Smeal said yesterday, small U.S. drug firms will be urged to press their own research toward invention of a substitute similar in function to RU-486.

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