Researchers' discovery that RU486 is effective as a morning-after method of birth control is a key that could unlock the political closet where the French abortion pill has been locked up since 1989 under an import ban.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrating the pill's use in preventing pregnancy makes a strong case in support of the drug that has been opposed because of its properties as an abortifacient. In an interesting twist that should give abortion foes reason to reconsider their fight against RU486, the controversial drug actually could reduce the chances for abortion by reducing the incidences of pregnancy.
When taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, RU486 prevents a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall, a condition required for pregnancy to occur. The study could help raise the profile for morning-after treatment, which is not commonly used by health practitioners outside of Planned Parenthood agencies, emergency rooms treating assault victims and college health clinics. The drug causes fewer, less-punishing side effects than other morning-after treatments using extra doses of common birth-control pills.
If the Food and Drug Administration approves RU486 for use as birth control, as it should, doctors would be able to prescribe the drug for other purposes as long as it was not advertised for such. Better yet, the FDA also should lift the import ban it slapped on the drug, which had the effect of stopping critical research into its potential as treatment for breast cancer, brain tumors and other serious diseases. The drug's French manufacturer ceased distributing even the allowable experimental amounts out of fear of U.S. backlash over the subject.
As long as RU486 stays embroiled in political debate based on the spurious ground that its ease of use would encourage women to have abortions, women seeking abortions will be denied access to a safe, non-surgical alternative. Women and men afflicted with life-threatening diseases will be denied the hope of survival.
The new birth-control development is a perfect opportunity to open the United States' door to RU486.