AVAILABLE IN Europe for more than a decade, the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 continues to face ever more complicated obstacles on its journey toward the American market. For the second year in a row, the House has inserted language into a larger appropriations bill that could block the Food and Drug Administration from spending any money to complete its safety tests on the drug. A similar move last year, with language slipped into an agriculture appropriations bill, failed to survive a House-Senate conference. This year's language is likewise appended to an agriculture appropriations bill; it passed the House 217 to 214, a narrower margin than last year's 21 votes. This year's conference should likewise throw it out.
The advent of RU-486, or mifepristone, has been doggedly fought by many abortion opponents because of the change it is expected to bring about in the landscape of the abortion fight. Though effective only in the first seven weeks of pregnancy, the drug would offer non-surgical abortion and could be prescribed privately in any doctor's office. (In fact, two drugs already approved for other uses, one for cancer and one for ulcers, can now be prescribed with what is apparently the same level of efficacy and safety, but they too would require more FDA testing before this "off-label" use could be publicized or promoted.)
Would women really choose in significant numbers the option of receiving an abortion-inducing pill -- two pills, actually -- and going through an early abortion in private rather than in a surgical setting? Would so hard-fought a campaign as the antiabortion movement fade away if protesters could no longer picket clinics and harass women seeking abortions? No one can say for sure, but it's clear that those trying to stymie the proper scientific testing of the abortion pill are in agreement on this point with its fiercest advocates. As long as the right to an abortion remains the law of the land, though, Congress has no business using the appropriations process to block access to a safer means of obtaining one.