Conservatives Push Back RU-486

"The Covenant News, a Christian Internet News Service, has launched a public service ad campaign to reach women who have experienced pain and suffering because they took the abortion pill RU-486. Utilizing the talents of the nation's three top post-abortion counseling and referral organizations this public service ad campaign will help women find medical attention, emotional counseling, and Medical Malpractice Attorneys." -- Covenant News

Shortly after Rev. John Earl, pastor at St. Patrick's Church in Rochelle, Illinois, learned of the Food and Drug Administration's decision to approve the abortion pill RU-486, he decided to pay an up-close-and-personal visit to a nearby health clinic. Rev. Earl crashed his four-door Saturn into a garage behind the Northern Illinois Women's Health Clinic, got out and started hacking away at the building with a pickax. Only by firing several shotgun blasts, was the building's owner able to stop Rev. Earl, who was arrested and charged with burglary and felony criminal damage to property. He was later released on $10,000 bond. On the following day, a Sunday, more than 1,000 anti-abortion protesters rallied in Rockford in support of Rev. Earl.

If you think that the FDA's decision, which ended a bitter twelve-year battle over the pill, means that the abortion wars are over, think again! If Religious Right organizations and congressional anti-abortion stalwarts like Representative Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have their way, the use of RU-486 will continue to be contested.

On October 5, Rep. Coburn introduced the RU-486 Patient Health and Safety Protection Act that, according to an Associated Press report, would "pass into law many of the health and safety guidelines that the FDA had considered," but rejected. Immediately after the FDA's decision Rep. Coburn indicated his support for a national registry of prescribing physicians. Although he dropped the registry from his bill, he left the door open to revisiting this issue should George W. Bush win the presidency, saying that a national registry should be left to the discretion of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Such a registry - originally proposed by the FDA but withdrawn due to protests from doctors' groups - raised the specter of yet another wave of anti-abortion violence. It is also eerily reminiscent of the anti-abortion Nuremberg Files Project and the equally infamous Nuremberg Files website. These two operations, although on the fringe of the anti-abortion movement, helped create a climate during which anti-abortion violence increased dramatically.

In his 1998 report, Skipp Porteous, of the Institute for First Amendment Studies, explained that the leadership of the anti-abortion American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA) launched the Nuremberg Files Project "in preparation for the day when they hope abortion rights will be outlawed." Porteous pointed out that David Crane, ACLA's national director, intended to "gather all available information on abortionists and their accomplices for the day when they may be formally charged and tried at Nuremberg-type trials for their crimes." The information gathered was specifically geared to the "kind of evidence admissible in a court of law." The Project's "secret archives would be kept "safe from seizure by those who would allow criminal child-killers to go free."

Paul deParrie, an assistant with the project, said: "We don't want to make the mistakes that allowed so many Nazis to escape justice after World War II. We intend to have extensive files on each of them [abortion providers], which will permit prosecutors too easily identify the criminal perpetrators and bring the appropriate judgment against them."

The Nuremberg Files website, created by Georgia computer programmer Neal Horsley, was an over-the-top anti-abortion website featuring pictures of bloody and mangled fetuses dripping down the screen. It also provided names, and whenever possible, home addresses of physicians and health workers who were involved in performing abortions. Murdered physicians and abortion providers had a line struck through their names, while those who were wounded were listed in gray. This was a most intimidating way to remind doctors and other health care providers that they and their families were being watched closely by violent anti-abortion terrorists.

After a series of unfavorable court rulings, MindSpring, the Internet service provider for the site, shut it down in February 1999, citing breach of contract, including "harassing materials and network unfriendly activity." Almost immediately, several mirror sites were established, including ones in the Netherlands and Australia. It is conceivable that a registry like the one demanded by Rep. Coburn could again bring the most violent anti-abortion activists out of the woodwork.

Another potential target for violence are the workers at Danco Laboratories, the so-called "secretive seller" of RU-486. While pleased with the FDA's ruling, a Danco spokesperson expressed concern over potential violence from anti-abortion activists. Company spokesperson Heather O'Neill denied Danco was a secretive operation but, according to "CNN.com," she also "refused to give the firm's New York address or disclose the manufacturer of the new drug." The threat of boycotts from Religious Right organizations and fear of violence from anti-abortion zealots were major factors over the years in the refusal of several large drug companies to manufacture or market RU-486.

Republican Party presidential candidate George W. Bush immediately called the FDA's decision "wrong," saying that he feared that the availability of RU-486 "will make abortions more and more common." Although Bush threatened to reverse the ruling were he to become president, a campaign spokesperson clarified that "a president cannot order drugs off the market." However, if elected the spokesperson said that "Bush would appoint an FDA commissioner to make sure the FDA considered the risk and did not take action as a result of political pressure from the White House." Bush also indicated that he would support a congressional move to limit the use of RU-486. (In 1989, President George Bush's administration banned RU-486 from this country).

Several anti-abortion congressional representatives shed more heat than light on the issue in comments to Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. Longtime anti-abortion activist Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) branded the drug "a baby poison" and "a baby pesticide." "I think, in short, it has to be termed that this is an administration of death and destruction," said conservative Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho).

Religious Right organizations also responded quickly to the FDA's decision. In a "News Advisory," Troy Newman, Director, Operation Rescue West (ORW), promised that ORW would use "the same peaceful yet confrontational tactics that have been effective against surgical abortions to isolate and expose the promoters of this "death pill." He added that "to think that the introduction of RU-486 will maker it more acceptable to kill a child you would have to think that the introduction of Cyclon-B nerve gas to Auschwitz made it more acceptable to kill Jews."

Teresa Wagner, legal analyst for sanctity of life issues for the Family Research Council, claimed "the FDA's approval of RU-486 could result in more abortions and therefore more dead babies and injured women." Judie Brown of the American Life League vowed: "We will not tolerate the FDA's decision to approve the destruction of innocent human persons through chemical abortion." And Wendy Wright, director of communications for Concerned Women for America, America's largest women's political organization, played both the anti-China and conspiracy cards, suggesting that there are "many sordid figures involved, from a manufacturer in China, to the people who conducted the trials in the U.S. covering up negative results."

For years, activists on both sides of the abortion issue argued that the availability of RU-486 would dramatically change the debate forever. By allowing doctors to dispense the pill abortion would become a much more private affair. However, the hyperbole coming from Religious Right groups, candidate Bush's fuzziness on the issue, and Rep. Coburn's proposed legislation suggests that it will not be smooth sailing for those who manufacture, prescribe and receive RU-486. And given the reaction by Rev. Earl, it is clear that RU-486 has become another weapon in the battle over reproductive rights. The stakes for all are high; however for health-care workers it could be déjà vu terrorism all over again.

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