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the Body Politic
Vol. 01, No. 07 - July 1991, Page 22
Copyright © 1991, 1998 by the Body Politic Inc.

RU 486 -- Are You the Moral Property of Women?

By Anne Bower

As the right to terminate a pregnancy slides down a slippery slope to the back alleys, family planning providers and reproductive rights advocates are looking to a scientific discovery called RU 486 to change the nature of the abortion procedure and restore it to the privacy it once enjoyed.

When taken in the first seven weeks of pregnancy, the drug causes an early miscarriage by blocking the hormone that prepares the uterine lining to receive a fertilized egg. This is why the drug has been called a "contragestive" by Dr. Etienne Baulieu, the French scientist who was very instrumental in its development. Not only is RU 486 an important scientific breakthrough because of its ability to produce a safe, early abortion without an invasive medical procedure, but it has major social and moral implications.

In America today, the majority of first trimester abortions are performed in clinics which have been the scene of unprecedented harassment and even danger for the women seeking care. Because administering RU 486 requires no surgical equipment or procedures, the drug can be on hand at the office of any Ob/Gyn. It would be extremely difficult for anyone to know which women keeping an appointment were going in to terminate a pregnancy, thus returning privacy to the abortion procedure. In an age where RTL protesters walking in front of clinics have printed on their signs the names of women who had abortions, privacy becomes a very desirable commodity.

Morally, the use of RU 486 returns the actual abortion procedure back into the woman's own hands. She makes the decision to end the pregnancy and she takes the pills herself. The doctor's part is to give her a progesterone shot two days later to ensure that the process is complete and speedy, then examine her in a week to ten days to make sure there are no complications. RU 486 has a 96% success rate.

At this time, this drug has been deemed the "moral property of women" by the French Minister of Health. However, the political climate in America has prevented U.S. women from acting as moral agents capable of making decisions about pregnancy termination. The Bush administration has even blocked this drug's entry for research, despite the fact that it appears to have many other medical applications.

Because of the debate around RU 486, the Body Politic is beginning a series of articles, starting with an informative research paper by 'Lissa D'Aquanni of Family Planning Advocates, which investigates the FDA's explanation of its refusal to allow the drug into the country for research. Part two follows in August and September's issue will feature information from the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, a group formed to bring RU 486 to America.

The political and social battle looming around RU 486 will be far lengthier and more involved than the Gulf War. However, a victory for reproductive rights advocates should bring more lasting benefits to this society than all the yellow ribbons and ticker tape parades ever seen.

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