Some Crikey readers might have been surprised yesterday to read that
the abortion drug RU486 “is widely available throughout Europe and the
USA.” But it’s true: even in the US, the home of the political
anti-choice movement, RU486 (also called mifepristone) was licensed by
the Food & Drug Administration in 2000, in the last year of the
Clinton presidency.

But a related controversy is still raging there over the morning-after
pill, charmingly known as “Plan B,” which was refused approval for
over-the-counter use by the FDA in May of last year. As The New York Times reports, an investigation by the Government Accountability Office, released this week, casts serious doubt on the decision:

Top agency officials were deeply involved in the decision,
which was
‘very, very rare,’ a top FDA review official told investigators. The
officials’ decision to ignore the recommendation of an independent
advisory committee as well as the agency’s own scientific review staff
was unprecedented, the report found. And a top official’s ‘novel’
rationale for rejecting the application contradicted past agency
practices, it concluded.

Democrat Senators Patty Murray and Hillary Clinton said the report “has
confirmed what we have always suspected, that this was a politically
motivated decision that came down from the highest levels at the FDA.”

Technically, Plan B is a contraceptive, not an abortifacient, but that
carries no weight with the right-to-life crowd. Just as with RU486
here, the debate is couched in terms of health concerns, but the only
people who think they justify a ban are those who are already opposed
to abortion.

Also like RU486, it will be a test of the pro-choicers’ political backbone. Here there are already murmurings on the backbench against Tony Abbott’s attempt to stifle debate; even The Australian
today editorialised in support of the drug. In both Australia and the
US there is no doubt that the majority is pro-choice: the question is
whether they are willing to make a stand.