REPRODUCTIVE health in the United States took a leap into the 21st century with the long-delayed approval of the abortion pill, RU-486.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved the use of the drug that makes it possible for women to terminate pregnancies at home, in private. That will make abortion more readily available to women who don't live near abortion clinics. Its approval is a major blow to the anti-abortion movement's strategy of making abortion unavailable, if not illegal.
The FDA's decision comes after 12 years of rancorous debate. Anti-abortion forces have fought the drug, believing that it would make abortion more common and doctors who perform abortions more difficult to target.
It's hard to know whether this drug, also known as mifepristone, will lead to an increase in abortion. That has not been the case in Europe, but the anti-abortion movement has not been as active there. It is clear, however, that doctors who prescribe the drug will have considerably more privacy than those who now perform abortions.
Fortunately, the FDA dropped some of the restrictions it was considering that would have made it easy for anti-abortion protesters to target those doctors. The rules announced Thursday make it possible for most gynecologists and many family practitioners to prescribe the drug. They must merely have access to surgeons who can step in if the abortion is unsuccessful and perform a procedure used routinely after miscarriages.
The FDA's decision is likely to heighten the attention on abortion rights in the presidential campaign, highlighting the differences between the two major candidates. George W. Bush, whose father outlawed RU-486 as president, opposes it. Al Gore, who has served under the president who fought consistently to bring the drug to the U.S. market, supports it.
The FDA's decision was medically sound. As long as abortion is legal, Americans should have access to the most modern medicine available. RU-486 does not make the decision to have an abortion any easier or more painless. But having made that decision, a woman will be assured of a higher degree of safety and privacy.
© 2000 The Mercury News