RU486 decision a bitter pill

Catholic leaders and pro-life groups have voiced their deep disappointment after Parliament passed the bill stripping the Federal Health Minister of his powers to veto the abortion drug RU486.

In a story for this Sunday's paper prepared after the passing of the bill in the Senate, and before yesterday's passing in the House of Representatives, the Catholic Leader publishes a sampling of Catholic opinion regretting the consequences of the legislation.

The Australian is reporting today that the abortion pill RU486 could be available in Australia within months after yesterday's "decisive" vote to strip Health Minister Tony Abbott of the power to veto the drug.

In a rare conscience vote, parliamentarians including Treasurer Peter Costello, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson and Opposition Leader Kim Beazley voted to end the ministerial veto.

Instead the power to declare the drug safe as an alternative to surgical abortions will now rest with scientists and medical experts at the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The pill could cost as little as $16 and its use would require the supervision of a general practitioner over several days.

The Leader reports that Cardinal George Pell of Sydney said earlier this week the health risks to women could not be airbrushed out of existence. Cardinal Pell said 87% of Australians supported finding ways to reduce the numbers of abortions.

Queensland Bioethics Centre director Ray Campbell said he was disappointed more notice was not taken of the Senate committee report into RU486.

Perth archdiocese's Respect Life Office executive director Clare Pike said many senators had bought into the illusory rhetoric of choice and neglected the harm of RU486.

Miss Pike said she remained confident that eventually the harm of abortion to women would become more widely known as more Australian post-abortive women spoke out.

Australian Catholic Students Association acting president Aaron Russell said the issue of RU486 was one that united young people irrespective of religious affiliation or belief.

Queensland secretary of the World Federation of Doctors who Respect Human Life, Dr David van Gend said the argument at the heart of opposition to the bill was that the very limited TGA criteria of "safety and efficacy" were inadequate for considering the ethical, cultural, legal significance of a chemical used to take innocent human life.

After two days of personal stories and a rare conscience vote, senators supported a private members' bill, voting by 45 to 28 last Thursday to transfer the minister's powers to the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Yesterday's House of Representatives vote was won with a two-thirds majority.

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting today that Health Minister Tony Abbott is responding by preparing a $60 million four-year scheme to offer counselling to women with unwanted pregnancies. The paper says he will take his proposals to cabinet in the next two weeks, where they are expected to be approved. The aim is to reduce the abortion rate by offering advice to pregnant women to help them understand the alternatives available to them.

In Catholic media overseas, Catholic World News reported on yesterday's passing of the bill. It said opponents of the "abortion pill" had cited the risks of mothers, and argued that the abortion rate in Australia is already unacceptably high. Recent polls have shown a substantial majority of the country's people wish to lower the abortion rate.

Decision a bitter pill (Catholic Leader 19/2/07)
Abortion drug on sale in months (The Australian 17/2/06)
Abbott's $60m to counter abortion (Sydney Morning Herald 17/2/06)
Australian lawmakers move toward RU-486 approval (Catholic World News 16/2/06)

Pell says Australia changing its mind on abortion (CathNews 15/2/06)
Catholic groups decry Senate vote (CathNews 10/2/06)
Catholic and Evangelical students join Muslims in RU-486 fight (CathNews 9/2/06)
Abbott says attacks are sectarian (CathNews 9/2/06)
Bishop Fisher says RU406 won't curb abortions (CathNews 7/2/06)
Catholic GPs ready to quit over RU-486 (CathNews 3/2/06)
Life Office criticises advertiser's gag on abortion debate (CathNews 1/2/06)
Churches lead RU406 protest (CathNews 30/1/06)
Day of action to fight abortion drug move (CathNes 27/1/06)
Melbourne Archbishop says maintain abortion drug ban (CathNews 25/1/06)
Pope says 'no' to gay marriage, abortion pill (CathNews 13/1/06)
Catholic Health to address abortion pill inquiry (CathNews 15/12/06)

Debate on Abortion drifts to Concern of Rising Muslim Population in Australia (Catholic News Agency 15/2/06)
Australia 'will be Muslim in 50 years' (London Telegraph 15/2/06)
Matt Price: Not eye to eye (The Australian 16/2/06)

17 Feb 2006