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Attempt to block RU 486 approval fails in House of Representatives

WASHINGTON (BP)–The latest congressional attempt to block RU 486 from approval by the federal government did not even get out of the House of Representatives.

The House — which twice before had passed legislation blocking the Food and Drug Administration from using federal funds for the testing, development or approval of RU 486 or any other abortion-inducing drug — voted 187-182 against such a measure recently. The vote was taken as an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill on the first day after Congress’ Fourth of July recess, and 66 members were absent.

Had all those representatives been present, “we’re confident it would have passed,” said John Hart, press secretary for Rep. Tom Coburn, R.-Okla., chief sponsor of the legislation.

Chances for adopting the measure before adjournment “don’t look good, but we’re going to do everything we can to find a vehicle” to use to prevent approval of RU 486, Hart said.

The House adopted Coburn’s amendment the last two years, but both times the Senate failed to follow its lead. Last year, the House margin of passage was only three votes.

The July 10 failure in the House comes at a time when RU 486, also known as the French abortion pill, appears near FDC approval, albeit with some potential restrictions abortion rights advocates oppose. According to a June 7 report in The Washington Post, the FDA has proposed the abortion drug be approved with the following guidelines:

— There would be a national registry of all physicians who prescribe RU 486;

— Only doctors trained in performing surgical abortions could prescribe the drug;

— Those doctors must have admitting privileges at a hospital within one mile of their offices;

— A study would be conducted of all women who have had abortions using RU 486.

If the FDA’s proposed guidelines are approved, they apparently would dramatically limit the number of doctors who would prescribe the drug. For one thing, the process would not be nearly as secretive as abortion rights advocates had expected.

RU 486, also known as mifepristone, is used with a prostaglandin, misoprostol, to induce abortion normally in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Mifepristone causes the lining of the uterus to release the baby, who usually suffocates or starves to death. Misoprostol, taken two days after mifepristone, causes the uterus to contract, expelling the child’s body.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other pro-life organizations have long fought against RU 486’s introduction into the United States. Despite pro-life efforts that succeeded during the administration of President Bush, the abortion drug has been moving toward widespread availability since President Clinton took office more than seven years ago.

Two days after he took office in 1993, Clinton issued a directive clearing the way for importation of the abortion pill into this country. In 1994, Roussel Uclaf, the French manufacturer of RU 486, donated the U.S. patent to the Population Council, a New York-based nonprofit group. The FDA issued the original approvable letter for RU 486 in September 1996.

The FDA process on the drug has taken much longer than abortion rights advocates had hoped. In the most recent development before the June report in The Post, the FDA issued an “approvable letter” in February to the Population Council, delaying approval because “remaining questions need to be resolved before final marketing approval can be granted,” according to an agency news release.

RU 486 is already available in such countries as France, Great Britain, Spain, Sweden, Russia, China and Israel, according to The Post.