Thompson Pledges Review of RU-486 If Confirmed
HHS Secretary-designate and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) said Friday he intends to conduct a new safety review of the abortion drug mifepristone if confirmed, the New York Times reports. Thompson addressed the issue at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, a day after his hearing with the Senate Finance Committee. In approving mifepristone, also known as RU-486, the FDA found it to be safe and effective in inducing abortion, but Thompson, an abortion rights opponent, said that the approval process "was contentious [and] controversial." Responding to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-N.Y.) question on whether he would try to undo the approval, Thompson said, "I do not intend to roll back anything unless it is proven to be unsafe. Safety concerns are something that's in question." Anti-abortion groups and several members of Congress, led by Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.), are seeking to impose restrictions on physician prescriptions of the drug in order "to protect women." But such restrictions could also limit access to mifepristone (Pear, New York Times, 1/20). When asked by reporters following the hearing what risks he thought mifepristone presented, Thompson responded, "I don't know. Give me a chance to get confirmed, and then we'll get into it" (Weiss, Washington Post, 1/20). Since approving mifepristone in September, the FDA has not received any reports of adverse effects associated with the drug, which has been used in Europe for 12 years. The FDA does not have the power to overturn approval unless unexpected, severe side effects are reported, but it could impose restrictions on prescribed uses (Meckler, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/20).
Here are some other issues and concerns that were discussed during Friday's hearings:
- FDA: Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) was critical of the Bush administration's decision to dismiss FDA Commissioner Jane Henney, whose approval of mifepristone was one of her "more controversial decisions." Mikulski said to Thompson, "Let's not politicize FDA. I ask you to look into this matter." Ranking Committee Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) also praised Henney, saying she enjoyed "broad support" from the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and food industries (Washington Post, 1/20). Thompson replied that "all political appointees and heads of agencies were asked to submit their resignations" and that he would "review" her dismissal.
- CHIP: Thompson said he "would encourage states to expand the ... Children's Health Insurance Program to cover parents in low-income families" (New York Times, 1/20).
- Tobacco: When asked whether the FDA "should have the authority to regulate deceptive tobacco ads," Thompson "expressed concern" but said that the Supreme Court has ruled that the FDA "does not have regulatory authority over tobacco." He said that Congress should pass legislation giving the FDA this authority, to which Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) responded, "We need your help" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/20.)
- Stem Cell Research: While Harkin did not directly question Thompson on this issue, he did say that stem cells place America "on the brink of cures and treatments for chronic diseases such as juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and spinal cord injury." Thompson "declined to address the topic with reporters after the hearing," the Washington Post reports. While the nominee has expressed support for stem cell research in the past, President Bush has stated his opposition to supporting it with federal funds (Washington Post, 1/20).
This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.