House votes to bar FDA role in abortion pill Ban called unlikely to pass in Senate


WASHINGTON -- The House voted yesterday to bar the Food and Drug Administration from spending federal money to test, develop or approve any drug -- including the French abortion pill RU-486 -- that would chemically induce abortion.

By a vote of 223-202, lawmakers amended the fiscal 1999 agriculture spending bill to include the ban, then overwhelmingly approved the $56 billion agriculture bill. Thirty-five Democrats joined 188 Republicans in voting for the anti-abortion measure.

Advocates of abortion rights swiftly attacked the move, although even the sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Tom Coburn, conceded it was unlikely to be approved by the Senate.

"The strategy is to raise the level of debate on what we're doing," the physician and Oklahoma Republican said in an interview. "We're spending federal dollars to figure out how to kill children. We ought to be spending the FDA's resources on things that improve life, not take it away."

A leading opponent, Rep. Nita M. Lowey, said the amendment was "broad and vague" and could prohibit the development of new contraceptive methods.

"It puts ideology ahead of science and compromises women's health. This amendment would tie the FDA's hands, rendering it absolutely helpless in its primary task -- to evaluate scientific data," the New York Democrat told the House.

RU-486 has been available for nearly a decade in France and also is used in Britain and Sweden.

The FDA declared RU-486 safe and effective two years ago but withheld final approval until it received additional information on its manufacture and labeling. The Population Council holds the U.S. rights to market the drug, but has suffered a series of setbacks in finding a manufacturer.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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