Earlier this year Phillip Adams fantasised that the real opposition to the Government would come from its own backbench, before dismissing it as a wistful whim. It may yet come true. Yesterday’s developments in the RU486 debate have been fascinating.

Health Minister Tony Abbott may have spoken, but Crikey understands a large number of other interested parties want to have their say, too. They’ve been hitting the phones hard, right across the human services portfolio, with Minister for Family and Community Services Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues, Senator Kay Patterson, getting a particular ear bashing.

And while Abbott may be deaf to their pleas, others in the Government – even frontbenchers – seem to be listening.

Sharman Stone, the Parliamentary Secretary to the hard right Minister for Finance and Administration, Nick Minchin, has threatened to cross the floor to overturn a ban on the drug.

“I would hope we had a conscience vote because I’m quite sure there would be people… who felt so strongly about it that they would cross the floor,” she told the ABC. “If we didn’t have a conscience vote then I’d have to think very seriously about (crossing the floor) because I do represent a regional electorate and I feel very concerned about the number of women and girls who have to go to capital cities now.

“It’s a very traumatic, expensive, complex process for them.

“If you’re only 13 or 14 with no family or community support, you can imagine how traumatic that is.”

Western Australian Liberal backbencher and former GP Mal Washer has asked for a conscience vote on RU486, too.

More than a few Government members believe that the Health Department information given to Abbott simply told him what he wanted to hear. Health experts and gynaecologists have a different story.

Patterson became the first Minister to canvass a conscience vote on the issue yesterday – and a vote is looming.

RU486 has effectively been banned in Australia since 1996, when a deal was struck with Tasmanian Independent Brian Harradine to have it removed from the schedule in exchange for his support for the part sale of Telstra.

Reproductive health and telcos are usually considered by sane and principled people as separate issues, and the Democrats are hoping to put a motion to remove the Harradine amendment from the Therapeutic Goods Administration Act when Parliament next sits.

If the Harradine amendment is taken out of the TGA Act then Abbott won’t have a say on what drugs are approved or not approved. The Dems are putting this into the Senate in the next sitting week.

Abbott says the discussion is premature. “Everyone should take a cold shower about this because no company has applied to register it in Australia,” he claims.

Patterson, in contrast, has said “I would like to have a discussion with the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister will make a decision as to whether it is a conscience vote”.

Just to add to the fun, Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan has said she thinks the report to Abbott was very narrow and there needs to be further debate about the pill.

Both the Australian Medical Association and the College of Obstetricians support the use of the abortifacient. And the Rural Doctors Association has criticised Abbott’s claim that RU486 should not be made legal because it poses a health risk to women in rural and remote areas, describing it as an insult to their members.

PS: Bright young media friendly dons Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington claim in The Sydney Morning Herald today that the rise of the Christian right has been exaggerated. They’re probably right. That makes the advice given to Abbott by Chief Medical Officer Professor John Horvath that the drug could increase risks to women undergoing pregnancy termination his Department even more questionable. Frank and fearless? Pigs ars*!