Confusing the issues on morning-after pill

Abortion pill: FDA must not let safe treatment be held hostage by public sentiment.

June 15, 2000

IT'S TIME to free mifepristone, the abortion pill known as RU-486, from the grips of one of this country's most divisive and destructive debates.

Four years ago, the Food and Drug Administration declared RU-486 a safe and effective means of terminating pregnancy during the first nine weeks. Women in Europe and Asia have known this for more than a decade.

But the fight in the United States today isn't about drug safety.

Instead, it's about whether women have a fundamental right to terminate a pregnancy safely. For proponents, that right is essential and common-sense. For detractors, it amounts to murder, plain and simple. In such stark light, the drug's future is understandably hard to see.

Yet for a federal health agency, the vision should be clear: A drug that can benefit many citizens has been tested and found safe. People should have access to it. Period.

Approval should not become subject to the whims of popular (or unpopular) sentiment. But if the FDA follows through with plans to severely restrict RU-486, that is exactly what will happen.

The most onerous proposal is to publish a list of prescribing doctors. In a social climate where some who decry abortion as murder have no trouble committing it to further their cause, this amounts to disseminating a hit list for extremists. It's a little like posting the names of doctors who perform abortions on Web sites -- except in this case, you have a federal agency putting law-abiding physicians in almost-certain peril. This is an abhorrent prospect.

The FDA should approve RU-486 as it would any other safe and promising medication -- without restrictions. It must not bow to outside pressures, be it from lawmakers, lobbyists or anti-abortion zealots.

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