- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

House conservatives are furious at one of their usual allies — the pro-life Traditional Values Coalition — for waging a campaign to convince people that a bill allowing reimportation of American-made drugs from other countries promotes abortion.

The TVC says the bill — set for a House vote next week — “creates a fast track for the deadly abortion drug RU-486.” In an attempt to derail it, the conservative, pro-family group has run numerous ads, organized phone calls and sent mass mailings to constituents of many pro-life representatives, urging them to tell their congressmen the bill is “wrong for the unborn.”

Pro-life Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican and head of the House Values Action Team (VAT), a group designed to coordinate conservative members of Congress with pro-family organizations, said reimportation “is not an abortion issue.” He said pro-life members are angry they have been “accused of not really being pro-life because of this bill.”

Mr. Pitts opposes the reimportation bill for other reasons, but yesterday he removed TVC from VAT for one year because of its conduct, which he said has “infuriated the pro-life community” in Washington.

“Your willingness to attack members of Congress whom you should regard as friends without so much as a warning is offensive,” he wrote in a letter yesterday to TVC leaders. “The spurious nature of the claims you have made in your attacks shows a lack of regard for the truth.”

At issue is a bill, pushed by Republican Reps. Gil Gutknecht of Minnesota and Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, which would allow individuals, pharmacists and wholesalers to reimport FDA-approved, American-made prescription drugs from other countries where they are sold much cheaper. Supporters say competition in the drug industry will drive down abnormally high U.S. drug prices.

“Why should Americans pay two, three, six, ten times more for the very same products?” asked Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, who held a Government Reform subcommittee hearing yesterday on the issue.

House Republican leaders do not like the bill because they are concerned about the safety of drugs being reimported. But to get enough votes to pass their Medicare prescription-drug bill, they promised Mrs. Emerson a House floor vote.

The TVC, which did not immediately return calls yesterday, says that were the bill enacted, “any 14-year-old with her Dad’s or Mom’s credit card is in business when it comes to buying RU-486.”

RU-486 is a chemical compound taken in pill form that can induce abortion in early weeks of pregnancy.

A paper by the House Republican Study Committee challenged that claim, noting that only doctors would be able to prescribe RU-486 under the bill — just as under current law. The bill would require reimported drugs to adhere to FDA guidelines, and under current guidelines RU-486 is only available to doctors under limited conditions, the RSC paper says.

“The bill will not make RU-486 any more available than it is now,” said Richard Lessner, a policy analyst for the Family Research Council. The group, like Mr. Pitts, opposes the bill because it would, they say, essentially import government price controls from foreign countries.

Mrs. Emerson said she plans to bring an altered proposal to the floor next week that would allow drug reimportation only from Canada for the first three years. After that, reimportation could be extended to European Union countries. She is not sure whether House leaders will allow her to bring this version of the bill to a vote.

Both the House and Senate Medicare prescription-drug bills contain a provision to allow drugs to be reimported from Canada, but only after the Health and Human Services secretary certifies they are completely safe and will significantly lower drug prices. Previous secretaries have not been able to do this, and Mrs. Emerson says the requirements are simply “poison pills” designed to ensure reimportation never occurs. The Emerson-Gutknecht reimportation bill does not contain these requirements.

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