Safety in Numbers

Abortion and the FDA.


For years, pro-life groups have argued that abortion should be debated by state legislatures, not the federal judiciary. Now, just as South Dakota gears up for a historic challenge to Roe v. Wade, a cadre of congressmen wants a D.C. agency to step in.

In March, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) renewed calls to pass the RU486 Suspension and Review Act, which would force the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to suspend sale of Mifepristone, better known as the abortion pill. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) has sponsored similar legislation in the House. Both bills attack the drug not for its ethical implications but for its chemical content. "RU486 is a deadly drug that is killing pregnant women," DeMint argued.

Is it really? Backers of the bills point to five deaths associated with the drug since it was first approved for use in 2000. Drug maker Danco reports that 560,000 women have undergone the regimen since it was approved in 2000, and the FDA reports that four of the deaths involved an off-label use not recommended by the agency.

The FDA also says it is unsure whether the five deaths are attributable to the pill. But if the pill is the culprit in all five cases, its mortality rate will be under 1 per 100,000 women, a number comparable to that for induced abortion overall, which was .7 deaths per 100,000 procedures from 1988 to 1997.

The 11 senators co-sponsoring the bill all have pro-life voting records. The remaining alternative poses risks more than tenfold that of either method of termination. According to the Centers for Disease Control, carrying a pregnancy to term has a death rate of 11.5 in 100,000. So if the choice to take Mifepristone is an unacceptable risk, what does that make the choice not to use it?