Australia Opens Door for Abortion Pill Approval

Australia’s parliament paved the way for approval of the controversial abortion inducing drug RU-486 after a strong voice vote by a majority of members.

The Thursday vote in Canberra by the House of Representatives shifted authority over the drug from abortion opponent Tony Abbott, the Australian health minister, giving it to the Therapeutic Goods Administration regulatory agency that will conduct research on the safety and efficacy of the drug.

Abbott, who is a conservative Roman Catholic, had previously warned against high abortion rates in Australia. Australian Prime Minister John Howard had also opposed shifting control away from the health minister.

The author of the bill to transfer authority, Sen. Lyn Allison of Victoria, called the approval a “winner” for women, their families and the legislature.

Before Thursday's vote, the Senate had voted to approve transfer of authority by a 45-28 vote, which was preceded by a 95-50 vote in the House.

American advocacy groups had also attempted to influence the debate in Australia by submitting documents in support of their positions, according to the Associated Press.

Groups supporting abortion rights such as the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals and the Feminist Majority Foundation submitted documents stating that the drug was safe.

Anti-abortion groups including the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Family Research Council, on the other hand, entered submissions describing the deaths of four American women and one Canadian after using the drug.

In the United States, where the drug is already available, the debate is whether to take the drug off the market, following concerns about the safety of the drug. For the past several years, conservative lawmakers and advocacy groups have been attempting to pass “Holly’s Law,” named after 18-year old Holly Patterson who died a week after taking the drug. The law would force drug to be removed from the market place to be reviewed.

Supporters of the review say that hundreds of adverse reactions to the drug have been reported among the more than 400,000 doses that have been distributed to abortion providers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet determined if the drug was directly responsible for reported deaths.