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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 64/No. 39October 16, 2000

Abortion pill OK: a gain for women's rights
Registering a step forward in the fight for women's rights, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration September 28 approved the marketing of mifepristone, the first nonsurgical abortion method available in the United States. The medication, also known as RU-486 or the "morning after pill," has been available in European countries for more than a decade. The announcement met a polarized response from supporters and opponents of a woman's right to choose abortion.

The federal agency's approval of the drug will make it possible for women to terminate early pregnancies by taking the prescription oral medication, which will be available not only at abortion clinics but at doctors' offices, thus affording more privacy to those who seek abortions.

Government restrictions and rightist assaults have severely curtained the ability of women, especially working women, to have an abortion. For example, there are no medical facilities that provide abortion in 86 percent of counties and 33 percent of cities in the United States, according to a 1998 study. The federal government has denied the use of Medicaid funds for abortion since passage of the Hyde amendment in 1976. The years-long delay in marketing of RU-486, which included a Federal Drug Administration ban on its importation in 1989, has been part and parcel of the efforts to limit the ability of women to terminate pregnancies under doctors' care.

While leaders of women's rights organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) hailed the decision as long overdue, some capitalist politicians denounced it. Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush said the decision was "wrong" and expressed concern that the availability of the procedure would make abortion "more and more common rather than more and more rare." Studies in Europe show that the frequency of abortions has not increased since the drug was made available some 10 years ago.

Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., chairman of the House Republican Conference, said electing Bush will reverse the decision. "Do-it-yourself abortion has no place in a civilized society," Watts said. Rep. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, said he planned to introduce legislation to limit access to the drug. Patrick Buchanan, the Reform Party presidential candidate whose anti-woman scapegoating is a central plank of his incipient fascist organizing efforts, called mifepristone the "death pill" and vowed to fight to ban it.

Kate Michelman, president of NARAL, which has endorsed Albert Gore for president, said, "While this is a sweet victory, it could be short-lived if we elect an anti-choice president."

James Harris, Socialist Workers Party candidate for president, called the Federal Drug Administration ruling "a victory for all working people." Harris said, "This victory is a product of the support in the working class for the rights of women, including the right to choose abortion." Harris warned against having confidence in the Democratic Party to defend women's rights. "Over the past eight years, the Clinton/Gore administration has presided over a continued erosion of access to abortion, and outright restrictions, such as parental notification laws. It is this administration that has carried through massive assaults on working people. Clinton vowed to 'end welfare as we know it,'" Harris said, "and he has fulfilled that threat, in addition to the rulers' assault through expanded use of the death penalty and attacks on Social Security.

"The Democrats, like the Republicans," Harris said, "represent the wealthy rulers who benefit from sexism, racism, and other prejudices that divide the working class. Every gain we have won for women's rights--from decriminalization of abortion to affirmative action--has been won by the struggle of the women's movement, the union movement, and the gains made by the civil rights movement. The reason rightists were defeated in their efforts to shut down abortion clinics in the early 1990s is because supporters of women's rights mobilized in the thousands in city after city and pushed them back."

Harris encouraged women's rights supporters to attend the World March of Women October 15 in Washington, which has among its demands defending a woman's right to abortion.

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