One of President Clinton's first actions in office was to sign an executive order reversing the ban on research involving RU-486, the abortion pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration in late September. How fitting that, in the waning days of Clinton's administration, RU-486 (now available under the brand name Mifepristone) will become available for women who prefer this most private form of abortion. Can the soft-focus tv ads be far behind, in which a young woman says she and her husband hope to have a few children, someday, but meanwhile they're happy with their Jack Russell terrier and dreams of a vacation for two in Paris?
This is what Mifepristone offers: slow death to thousands of developing babies who would otherwise attach to the walls of their mothers' wombs and grow there until they are born.
We are completing this issue of CT amid hotly contested results in the presidential election, and those results could dramatically affect the RU-486 debate. Should he win, George W. Bush would have a poignant opportunity to signal a new respect for the sanctity of life. In the America of a President Gore, meanwhile, RU-486 would be here to stay. That much is clear.
Regardless of any action by the newly elected President, however, the prolife movement will not only endure but find new ways to wage the important campaign for Americans' hearts and minds.
New Republic columnist Andrew Sullivan voices his feeling that RU-486 could actually help the prolife cause: "By making early abortion easier and more private, RU-486 would also subtly increase the social stigma of late abortions—paving the way perhaps for legislation making third-trimester abortions more difficult to get or even illegal altogether." We are not certain that Sullivan's optimism is well-founded: increasing access to one form of abortion does not typically decrease demand for other forms of abortion. Still, we welcome any possibility that America could join many European nations in making abortion less accessible with each new week of pregnancy.
For too many years, prochoice activists have characterized Roe v. Wade as guaranteeing the right to any abortion at any stage of pregnancy. As Congress must now debate whether even babies who survive abortions are entitled to live, surely Americans can find a consensus that certain late-term abortions are morally reprehensible.
Nevertheless, as Frederica Mathewes-Green writes on Beliefnet.com, such changes in law are only the beginning of the work ahead for prolife Americans: "RU-486 won't create peace in the abortion wars; making it earlier doesn't make it better, because violence is wrong at any point of the continuum, not just when somebody is cuddly-looking. This is the conviction that energizes the prolife movement, for almost 30 years past and as many as necessary ahead."
Perhaps someday historians will look back in horror on an age when American women would consciously swallow pills guaranteed to kill their offspring. Perhaps someday a majority of Americans will agree that RU-486 deserves to be known (in the words of Princeton law professor Robert P. George) as "the Zyklon B of the abortion industry." For now, Americans who are prolife must work within a culture that all too often treats pregnancy as a disease and abortion as the by-any-means- necessary cure.
We must not neglect whatever opportunities may arise from the poisonous entry of RU-486 into the abortion debate.
See also Christianity Today's recent article on the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, "Lives Measured in Minutes | New legislation would offer greater care for premature newborns near death." (Nov. 9, 2000)
Other Christianity Today articles about RU-486 include:
Books & Culture Corner: RU-486 Uncovers a Lie—And It's Not Just About Abortion | Think the abortion pill is indicative of postmodernity? You're wrong. (Oct. 2, 2000)
Abortion Pill Seems on Fast Track (Sept. 3, 1996)
Andrew Sullivan's New Republic column on RU-486 is available online.
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