RU-486: Is there anything it doesn't do?

In her brief article "Not Just for Abortion Anymore" (Wired, March), Laura Fraser reports that researchers at Stanford believe RU-486 may "dramatically help in the treatment of major psychotic depression, which causes delusions and hallucinations, and often ends in suicide." Fraser adds that RU-486, also called mifepristone, may be an alternative to electroshock therapy. And then come the villains of this piece:

Citing the 2003 death of a California teenager who took RU-486 to end a pregnancy, anti-abortionists in Congress are pushing for a federal ban. The bill, introduced in November, has 68 co-sponsors. Scientists are worried: Availability is already limited because the drug has only one US distributor.

Fraser closes by putting a human face on the dilemma:

Emily Mulheran is worried, too. The 33-year-old Web designer, who participated in early trials at Stanford, said mifepristone silenced the voices that had twice convinced her to try to kill herself. She has since been unable to get the drug and has resorted to electroshock therapy, which has caused so many memory problems she can't work. "The people who are trying to ban this don't realize how many people it can help," she says, then adds with a laugh, "it makes me crazy."

So there you have it: Ideologues in Congress -- we know they're ideologues because of Fraser's chosen adjective -- oppose both scientists and friendly, self-effacing people who don't want to be tormented by voices urging suicide.

What might prolife groups have to say about these issues?

Here's a response from Randall K. O'Bannon, director of education and research for the National Right to Life Committee:

The promoters of this pill want to act as if we have opposed RU-486's testing or use for truly curative or life-saving treatments. We have not. National Right to Life has never stood in the way of any curative or life-saving research that did not involve the destruction of other human lives.

But the only purpose for which the U.S. patent holder has ever sought and gotten government approval has been its use as an abortifacient, and that has also been where the great bulk of its time, money, research and energy has been invested. If the drug holds such promise for conditions such as that mentioned below, then why didn't the sponsor put a more significant portion of its money and energy toward that cause? Why didn't they concentrate their funds and efforts towards that curative research instead of investing millions of dollars and enormous political capital on its approval as a chemical abortifacient?

We know from the case in California, from the woman who died in Tennessee, from the two women who died in Britain that this chemical abortion method is not safe. It ought to be pulled from the market to protect such women. But that would not preclude the patent holder from researching or seeking FDA approval for other curative uses. At that time, the FDA could evaluate the risks and benefits in a situation in which the preservation or promotion of life really was at stake and it could rule accordingly. That the U.S. patent holder has not done so, has not invested the time, money, energy, or research in the preparation of a new drug application for those positive purposes is the fault of the patent holder alone, not any pro-life group.

Other groups worth consulting include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Feminists for Life.

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