Friday, February 3, 2006
An Australian Senate inquiry into the abortion pill “RU486” has started public hearings in Melbourne. A controversial conscience vote on the issue to overturn laws which prohibit Australian women’s access to the drug, will be held in Federal parliament on February 9.
The Senate committee is considering a bill to remove ministerial control of the abortifacient drug Mifepristone – or RU486. Health Minister Tony Abbott says the issue of whether to allow women access to the drug “is one of principle.” Abbott, who is against abortion, insists he is the right person to control the drug’s use in Australia.
Besides its use internationally as an “abortion pill”, there may also be a small chance that it may help treat various other medical disorders including prostate cancer, breast cancer, and inoperable brain tumours amongst other conditions. Mifepristone is effectively banned in Australia, with Minister Abbott controlling whether it is made available.
The bill, sponsored by a group of female senators and MPs, would hand Mr Abbott’s powers over to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) – the body that controls all other pharmaceutical drugs in Australia. The bill seeks to have the TGA determine the drug’s availability and not the Health Minister.
Democrats Leader Lyn Allison, said she was “cautiously confident” the parliament will overturn the current arrangements when the conscience vote takes place. “Those who are in favour of the bill are saying this is a choice that ought to be available to women and that on the basis of the studies that have been done overseas it is at least as safe as surgical termination,” Senator Allison said.
Reproductive Choice Australia (RCA)say that medicine is placed at the whim of politics, saying that over 80% of Australians are pro-choice. A national survey found 87% of women aged 18 to 49 support a woman’s right to choose.
RU486 is available in much of western Europe and North America, but was effectively banned in Australia under laws initiated by now-retired pro-life senator Brian Harradine.
Christine Read, medical director of family planning group FPA Health, said Misoprostol, also known as Cytotec, is across the world to invoke contractions to expel the fetus after a woman had taken RU486. “It is used extensively in obstetrics and gynaecology for termination of pregnancy and to induce labour, so it’s used in the medical management of miscarriage,” Dr Read said.
Dr Sharman Stone, said yesterday the issue was not about Misoprostol, but rather that “the TGA should make the decision about any drugs – that is its job. Any other conversations about other drugs are simply irrelevant to this argument,” Dr Stone said.
Family First senator Steve Fielding says lifting a ban on RU486 would pave the way for do-it-yourself home abortions. “RU486 is different to other drugs in that it is an abortion drug which could see do-it-yourself home abortions,” he said in a statement. “The question is, should policy be made by bureaucrats or our elected leaders?
Senator Fielding claims Australians are worried about the high number of abortions in Australia, as reflected in submissions received by the Senate committee.
On Monday the committee will move to Sydney for a final day of hearings.