NEW YORK -- A New York-based abortion-rights group has produced a copy of the controversial French abortion pill and plans to begin testing it on women here to pressure the manufacturer of the drug to bring it to the United States.
"Our purpose is to pressure Roussel," Lawrence Lader, president of Abortion Rights Mobilization, said yesterday. "We are trying to get them into quick, immediate and decisive action. Otherwise we will act."
Although the president of Roussel-Uclaf, the company that makes RU-486, has said that he would like to make the pill available in the United States, Roussel's German parent company, Hoechst AG, is against it.
"It has been unconscionable that Hoechst has not allowed Roussel to apply for a license," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and a past president of the National Organization for Women.
Added Molly Yard, another past president of NOW and a pioneer of the modern feminist movement: "It's probably the worst example of allowing greed to take precedence over the common good in recent years."
By making an equivalent pill in New York and applying to the Food and Drug Administration for approval to begin a clinical test here, which ARM plans to do soon, Mr. Lader said his organization hopes to pressure Hoechst into allowing Roussel to file a marketing application with the FDA, or else face losing a potentially lucrative American market.
With Ms. Smeal and Ms. Yard at his side, Mr. Lader vowed to go to U.S. pharmaceutical companies willing to produce the pill if Hoechst and Roussel do not act.
Such a move is likely to win the support of the Clinton administration. Immediately after taking office, President Clinton directed the Department of Health and Human Services to look into the possibilities of licensing and manufacturing the drug here.
"We certainly have encouraged a sponsor to come forth and submit an application for clinical trials," said FDA spokesman Lawrence Bachorik. The FDA falls under the jurisdiction of HHS.
But patent problems and the hostility of abortion foes, who have threatened boycotts of Hoechst's U.S. subsidiary if the company begins marketing the pill here, have kept potential American manufacturers from coming forward.
Mr. Lader said the pill produced for ARM will probably be burdened with patent problems.
Preliminary tests show the American drug to be identical to RU 486, for which Roussel holds the manufacturing rights.