Fr. Frank Pavone

   What's wrong with this picture:

United States testing of the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 has been conducted on over 2100 women since October of 1994. The data of these tests is still being analyzed, and that analysis is not expected to be complete until the end of 1996. Meanwhile, no tests have ever been done on the long-term and intergenerational effects of this powerful synthetic steroid. So in July of 1996 a panel of advisers to the FDA recommend that RU-486 be approved for marketing, and the Commissioner of Food and Drugs announces that the agency’s goal is to make a final decision by mid-September. Eleanor Smeal, a leading defender of "abortion rights", says, "I'm thrilled. It's a medical breakthrough."

Welcome to the world of the abortion battle.

The rest of this puzzling scenario, of course, will be the ease and certainty with which people will assert, "It's safe and easy." Such assertions are being made because the panel chose to take the French study of RU-486 as sufficient for their purposes, while reserving the right to look at the research again if the USA data contradicts that of France.

So what does that mean for US women?

Reporter Tony Kaye said it well in the January 1986 issue of New Republic: "The first generation of RU-486 users will be guinea pigs for the drug's long-term side effects."

One would hope we had learned a lesson from the Dalkon Shield or from the DES catastrophe. One would hope we were more careful about protecting women. Why the rush for RU-486? Why the impatience to wait for the test results?

One would hope that honesty would be primary in this debate. Sure, studies were conducted in France. But note well what is done as a result. The French government requires strict precautions for RU-486 abortions. Distribution controls are very tight. The drug may only be prescribed and taken in authorized facilities, and an electrocardiograph and emergency resuscitative cardiopulmonary equipment must be nearby. There is a long list of contra-indications for the drug.

Nor is the process quick and easy. At least three visits to a facility are necessary. First, the exact stage of the pregnancy is determined, since RU-486 can only be taken in a 5-7 week (or at most 5-9 week) window. The drug is then administered. On the second visit, prostaglandin is administered to induce contractions of the uterus. The woman must be observed for four hours. A third visit is necessary to insure that the new life has been completely expelled and that the woman is no longer pregnant. The expulsion occurs at some imprecise time in-between the first and last visit. That is, most of the time.

Moreover, some studies reveal 35 percent of women not returning for their follow-up appointments. That can leave them in life-threatening situations.

All this is hardly the image conjured up by the misleading term "abortion pill." All this is hardly easy. In fact, as president of Roussel Uclaf, which produced the drug, Edouard Sakiz stated in August 1990, "RU-486 is not at all easy to's an appalling psychological ordeal."

We have seen time and again how the same groups that are "thrilled" by RU-486 have opposed women’s "right-to-know" laws regarding possible complications of surgical abortions, and have been silent regarding the injuries and deaths that have occurred from "safe and legal" abortions. Unless a dramatic about-face is imminent, we can expect the same attitude regarding RU-486 complications.

Besides being a potential chemical time-bomb for women and their future children, the RU-486 technique will increase the numbers of abortions in America. Most Americans consider 4400 abortions a day (one every 20 seconds), which has been our rate since the early ‘80’s, to already be far too many. And make no mistake. Factually, RU-486 destroys a child whose heart is already beating. By blocking the effects of progesterone on the nutrient lining of the uterus, it literally starves the child.

Some claim RU-486 will radically change the abortion battle and make the work of the pro-life movement impossible.

Think again. RU-486 cannot possibly replace all surgical abortions, for a multitude of reasons. Such reasons include its limitation to early pregnancy, the fact that many will simply choose not to use it (in France, for example, only 25 to 30 percent of women seeking abortions choose RU-486), and the ambivalence and denial about pregnancy which cause many women to delay abortions.

Yet beyond that, no amount of chemical manipulation changes the ultimate nature of the abortion controversy. Changing the manner in which a woman ends her pregnancy does not meet her real need for someone to provide her the courage and freedom to affirm the life within her. The pro-life movement will continue to do that as it has done for decades.

Changing the manner in which the child is destroyed does not allow us to escape the question of the status of that child and our responsibility toward him/her. That question, which calls out to our deepest sense of justice, inclusiveness, and equality, will not accept artificial steroids as a substitute for honest and responsible answers.

By - Fr. Frank Pavone

National Director

More on RU-486

Mona Charen on RU-486

RU486 -- Editorial in L'Osservatore Romano, 1989