ABORTION PILL: House Votes To Ban Funding For FDA Approval Of RU-486
"The House voted yesterday to bar the Food and Drug Administration from spending federal money to test, develop or approve any drug" that would chemically terminate a pregnancy, the Baltimore Sun reports. The prohibition came in the form of an amendment the House tacked on to the FY 1999 agriculture appropriations bill by a vote of 223-202. The House "then overwhelmingly approved the $56 billion" spending bill. The majority was comprised of 188 Republicans, who were joined by 35 Democrats (6/25). The amendment was designed specifically to block FDA approval and licensing for the French abortion pill RU-486, "formally known as mefipristone." The Los Angeles Times reports that approval of the drug was "expected soon," in the wake of a New England Journal of Medicine study in April that "found the drug highly effective and safe for terminating early pregnancies" (Lacey/Cimons, 6/25).
The amendment was introduced by Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who is an OB/GYN. He said, "This will kill RU-486. The federal government has no right to use taxpayer dollars to develop abortion drugs." He also said approval of the drug runs contrary to the mission of the FDA. "The business of the FDA is to protect lives, not to facilitate death," he said (Myers, Tulsa World, 6/25). But Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the measure's most vocal opponent, accused Coburn of confusing politics and science. She said, "It puts ideology ahead of science and compromises women's health. This amendment would tie the FDA's hands, rendering it absolutely helpless in its primary task -- to evaluate scientific data" (Sun, 6/25). She noted that the pill would "increase options for American women," allowing them to avoid surgical abortions, and noted that it "has been available outside the United States since 1981" (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/25). Conley said, "RU-486 can be given in the privacy of a physician's office -- away from clinics blockaded by protesters, away from violence, harassment and intimidation." But it is exactly the private nature of the drug that troubles conservatives. "It's the medical equivalent of a simple headache -- pop a pill and your problems will go away," said Rep. Linda Smith (R-WA).
Where Will It Go?
Pro-choice advocates hope to kill the amendment in the Senate, where it is certain to face more opposition. The Los Angeles Times reports that the White House "immediately announced its opposition," with spokesman Joe Lockhart calling the action a "serious mistake" and an effort to "substitute political ideology for sound science" (6/25). The New York Times reports that "Lockhart stopped short of saying the president would veto the measure" and expressed hope it would be derailed in the Senate. However, should the bill reach President Clinton's desk, it would present him with a "political dilemma," the Times says. Killing the abortion provision also means "vetoing the broader, politically appealing" agriculture bill. Abortion rights supporters "were concerned that Mr. Clinton could waver on this matter because he is under political pressure on so many other fronts" (Seelye, 6/25).
A Fine Line
The Wall Street Journal reports that "yesterday's floor fight testifies to the intense politics surrounding not only abortion, but also contraceptive issues going into the fall election." The House leadership delayed action last night on an amendment to the Treasury-Postal appropriations bill, sponsored by Lowey, that would require all health plans for federal employees to cover prescription contraceptives (Rogers, 6/25). USA Today reports that Coburn seeks "to modify Lowey's amendment to define contraceptive as 'a drug or device intended for preventing pregnancy' but not one that interferes with fertilization or terminates a pregnancy." According to Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), "social conservatives are mounting a concerted effort to make it clear that 'contraception means fertilization does not take place'" (Lee, 6/25). Read the Daily Reproductive Health Report -- www.kff.org!