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the Body Politic
Vol. 1, No. 7 - July 1991, Page 27
Copyright © 1991, 1998 by the Body Politic Inc.
Book Reviews
Reviewed by Anne Bower

RU 486: The Pill That Could End the Abortion Wars and
Why American Women Don't Have It.

By Lawrence Lader
Addison-Wesley Publishing

Note: This book is out of print, but Larry Lader has written A Private Matter: RU 486 and the Abortion Crisis which is available from the Body Politic

Larry Lader, founding chair of the National Abortion Rights Action League has brought his fight for reproductive freedom into the 21st century with his recent book on RU 486. Abortion is still a legal option for terminating pregnancy, but during the 20 odd years Mr. Lader has participated in this struggle, the technology of the abortion procedure has advanced little, and the publicity around the event has exploded. Mr. Lader's book makes the point that RU 486 can improve one part of the problem and blunt another.

The book begins with an obligatory chapter on the history of abortion laws, with a special emphasis on the politics in America that helped produce the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Next, Mr. Lader explains that RU 486 can make the abortion procedure a private matter between a woman and her physician in the doctor's office. "Rarely in history has a scientific discovery had the power to intervene in the religious and political conflicts of our time."

RU 486, which produces a safe and non-invasive abortion during early pregnancy, was called the "moral property of women" by the French Health Minister. Mr. Lader traces its development in France by Etienne Balieu and the team of researchers who worked for Roussel Uclaf, the manufacturer. The author did extensive research on all those involved in the discovery of RU 486 and the history he recounts is a fascinating tale of science and scientists.

However, the most crucial part of the story is the national and international politics surrounding this medicine. Roussel Uclaf makes the drug available in France and a few other nations, but they have refused to release it to any country where there would be protests about its usage, even though the drug may be useful in treating breast cancer or Cushing's Syndrome. Because of the anti-abortion movement in America, the Bush administration has told the FDA not to allow the importation of the drug even for research. (See page 23)

In the book's final chapter, Mr. Lader outlines a strategy to end-run the anti-abortion forces by getting individual states to import RU 486 under their "mini-FDA" laws. A drug manufactured and used solely within a state, might not be subject to banning at the federal level.

Even if it is, Mr. Lader believes that the ensuing court cases and publicity, with diligent help from family planning providers, the medical profession and activists could generate enough support to reverse the federal government's policy. Since Mr. Lader was one of the original strategists who helped legalize abortion in America, we can only hope that he has devised a strategy to make abortion even safer and keep it legal.


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