Fresh Off Victory, Pro-Lifers Set Sights on RU-486

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - Pro-life advocates wasted little time celebrating the passage of a ban on partial birth abortion before turning their attention to other lingering concerns.

With the partial birth abortion bill headed to President Bush for his signature, conservatives said they now hope to pass other legislation that would put restrictions on the abortion drug RU-486, require parental notification for abortion and protect unborn victims of violence.

"Pro-life advocates in Congress are going to waste no time moving onward and upward in terms of taking the moral and the intellectual case for life to the American people," Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said at a forum held Wednesday on RU-486.

Pence is a co-sponsor of the RU-486 Patient Health and Safety Protection Act, which would require physicians to meet certain qualifications to prescribe the abortion drug.

The Food and Drug Administration considered the restrictions outlined in the bill before approving RU-486 in September 2000. But when they weren't included, lawmakers took the matter into their own hands.

"As a firmly pro-life member of Congress, I would like to see the approval of RU-486 repealed," the bill's sponsor, Rep. David Vitter (R-La.), said in a statement. "However, we should make every effort to inform and educate people about the current problems and protect women and mothers from any more deaths."

Two women - Holly Patterson of California and Brenda A. Vise of Tennessee - died after taking RU-486, although the manufacturer has challenged assertions that the drug was to blame. Patterson's death on Sept. 17 has renewed the debate over the safety of RU-486.

Pro-life advocates said the passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act could serve as a springboard for members of Congress to sign onto Vitter's bill or other legislation.

"The one thing that the partial birth abortion ban has done is raise the issue of what an abortion actually is," said Wendy Wright, senior policy director at Concerned Women for America. "We hope this will open the way for more discussion about how other forms of abortion are very harmful."

Wright said abortion clinics are not following FDA guidelines when administering RU-486, yet the government has done nothing to address the problem.

Vitter's bill would require physicians to meet certain qualifications when administering RU-486. Pro-life advocates believe part of the problem with RU-486 is the combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, which are both needed to make it effective.

Women take mifepristone first to kill the baby and then, two days later, take misoprostol, which induces labor and forces out the baby's remains. The FDA approved mifepristone as an abortion drug, but misoprostol was designed to treat ulcers.

Concerned Women for America has joined with the Christian Medical Association and the American Association of Pro Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists to file a citizen petition with the FDA outlining the concerns.

RU-486 isn't the only abortion-related matter likely to come up for debate. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), sponsor of the partial birth abortion bill, said he would like to tackle other issues, but he also recognizes there is a limit based on past Supreme Court decisions.

"We have a court that is very hostile to any kind of limitation on what is an absolute 'right' to an abortion in this country," Santorum said Tuesday after the bill passed. "We're going to try to move a parental notification bill and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, but because of the extreme position of the court, we're somewhat limited as to what we can do."

Abortion rights advocates, meanwhile, are gearing up for a court challenge to the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act as soon as Bush signs it into law. The American Civil Liberties Union plans to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the National Abortion Federation.

Louise Melling, director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, criticized Santorum's bill for lacking an exception for the health of a mother and being so broad that it might affect second-trimester abortions. She said the ban wouldn't hold up in court.

Melling said her organization would continue to fight in legislatures and the courts to oppose any restrictions lawmakers try to place on abortion.

"The passage of this ban is a threat," Melling said. "It is part of a steady push to erode reproductive rights."

The National Abortion Federation and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America didn't return calls seeking comment.

See Earlier Story:
RU-486 Critics Counter Claims About Abortion Drug
(Oct. 16, 2003)

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