- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

''A sweet victory," said Kate Michelman of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. "A great morning for American women," said Eleanor Smeal of the National Organization of Women. "A day that women should remember because their health and their choices are finally being respected," said Sen. Barbara Boxer. This victory, this great morning, this day to remember invoked so expansively by feminists refers to last Thursday's announcement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the so-called French abortion pill, RU-486, is now legal in the United States. Eleven years after President George Bush blocked its importation, seven years after President Clinton on his third day of office directed the FDA to begin its review, this decision brings to market what may be the ultimate postmodern convenience. RU-486 stands as the state of the art in early pregnancy termination: five pills, three office visits, two glasses of water, and life is beautiful again.

That is, it must be. What else explains, as reported by The Washington Post, the mood resembling war's-end euphoria at a local Planned Parenthood clinic over this government announcement. "The staff was waving [the announcement] in the air and saying, 'They approved it! They approved it!', " said a supervisor of "patient services" at the organization's six D.C.-area clinics. "There was a great deal of elation."

"Elation" is a weird and even unfathomable reaction to what Rep. Tom Coburn has perceptively described as an FDA first: the unprecedented approval of "a drug intended to kill people." But elation is nonetheless the salient reaction of proponents of abortion rights to the legalized sale of RU-486. Why?

Any description of the procedure quickly disabuses one of the notion that RU-486 is really as effortless as swallowing a couple of aspirin. As described by the New York Times, studies show that this pill-popping abortion method, which requires three doctor's office visits, combines two drugs that together cause "bleeding and cramping that usually last 9 to 16 days" usually "but can continue for 30 days or more. About half the women also reported nausea, and a quarter to a third said they experienced headaches, vomiting or diarrhea." In 5 percent of the women who take RU-486, the abortion is "incomplete," requiring the woman to undergo a surgical abortion "to empty her uterus of fetal tissue." A few women 1 percent bleed severely enough to require a blood transfusion in addition to a surgical abortion.

So, RU-486 is not quite so convenient after all. What may instead explain the eye-shining admiration for the drug among abortion rights activists is the privacy with which RU-486 is administered at home or in any doctor's office. As one local abortion clinic owner put it to The Washington Post, "Some women may like the privacy of [having an abortion] in their home, with their husband or significant other or parents there." But it's not just the preference of the consumer that likely accounts for all the excitement. Consider the fact that, if RU-486 catches on, the drug would remove abortion, literally, from the obvious venue of the abortion clinic particularly if the drug were ever retooled and approved for use beyond the first seven weeks of a pregnancy. In other words, the abortion pill could effectively decentralize the practice of abortion, rendering the procedure itself increasingly anonymous, and also decreasingly a tangible target of abortion opponents.

To abortion rights activists, that would be the biggest convenience of all.

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