WASHINGTON — Abortion foes in Congress introduced bills on Wednesday that would tighten standards for doctors administering the newly approved abortion pill RU-486.
Rep. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., joined by Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., said the legislation was needed because the Food and Drug Administration, in setting rules for prescribing the drug, had "caved in" to abortion rights groups seeking easy access to abortion. "Congress now has the unenviable task of correcting the FDA’s mistake."
Kate Michelman, president of The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said the legislation would impose restrictions that would "in effect negate the ability of doctors to prescribe this option for women."
Coburn said he hoped to get the bill to the House floor in the final days of this session. Hutchinson was less ambitious, saying he was looking to have a hearing this year and pursue the issue next year.
The FDA approved RU-486 on Sept. 28, ending a 12-year debate in this country. It gives American women a pharmaceutical abortion method already in wide use in France, Britain, China and 10 other countries.
President Clinton praised the decision as "one of science and medicine," but abortion opponents said it would encourage more women to end their pregnancies.
The FDA said that in order to prescribe the drug, doctors must be able to pinpoint the date of the pregnancy, rule out women with ectopic or tubal pregnancy, and be prepared to take surgical steps to complete the abortion or stop the bleeding in the case of problems. Also, women must sign a form agreeing to the necessary three doctor visits.
Hutchinson accused the FDA of bowing to political pressure in adopting what he said were inadequate protections. "It is extremely disturbing that the FDA would switch gears in a matter of months and water down patient protections for American women just to see the RU-486 pill approved before the end of this administration."
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