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Medicaid coverage of RU 486 same as surgical abortions, HHS says

WASHINGTON (BP)–The federal government will limit its funding of abortions for low-income women using the drug RU 486 to the same exceptions allowed for surgical abortion, according to a published report.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently informed state directors of Medicaid the government would pay for use of the controversial drug in cases of pregnancy from rape or incest or when the mother’s life is endangered, The Washington Post reported. Those are the exceptions to the current federal ban on Medicaid funding of surgical abortions.

The March 30 letter also informed states they have the authority to apply the same restrictions in place for surgical abortions to RU 486, according to The Post. This would include such state measures as parental notification and informed consent.

Medicaid is the government-funded health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

The Food and Drug Administration approved RU 486 in September, but the administration of President Bush has indicated it will study the approval process. In a confirmation hearing in January, Tommy Thompson, now HHS secretary, signaled he would review the FDA’s approval of the drug.

The approval of RU 486 came after a controversial effort of nearly eight years. On his second full day in office in 1993, President Clinton initiated the process to drop the import ban on the drug. The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other pro-life organizations had fought against RU 486’s introduction into this country even during the previous administration.

RU 486, also known as mifepristone, is used with another drug to induce abortion normally in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Mifepristone, which uses the trade name Mifeprex in the United States, causes the lining of the uterus to release the baby, who usually suffocates or starves to death. The other drug, a prostaglandin, is taken two days after mifepristone and causes the uterus to contract, expelling the child.

Pro-lifers have warned RU 486 not only kills a child but poses a threat to the physical and psychological health of a woman. Clinical tests in 1994 and ’95 in this country produced in women participating in the two-step method such side effects as severe bleeding, severe cramping, vomiting and nausea. The method also often results in a woman seeing the baby she has aborted, a situation usually not confronted in surgical abortions. In the American tests, 51 percent of the women who used the drug did not abort until after they left the clinic.

Legislation designed to provide protection beyond FDA requirements to women who take RU 486 has been introduced in Congress. The RU 486 Patient Health and Safety Act would require doctors who prescribe the drug to be certified to read ultrasounds to date pregnancies and identify ectopic pregnancies, have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital in case of emergencies, be trained and legally authorized to perform abortions and be trained in a FDA-approved course to administer the drug.

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