The controversy over RU846 is rather deja vu for
Margaret Reynolds. The former Senator was in the front line of the
push to make the drug available in Australia as long ago as 1989. And in 1999, when she retired
from the Senate, she gave her file on the issue to the National Library.

RU846 was approved for release in Catholic France
in 1988. Reynolds, a Tasmanian who was a Labor Senator for Queensland from
1983-99, was Minister Assisting the Prime Minister (Hawke) on regional issues,
local government and women at the time and in 1989, was briefed by the Office
of the Status of Women on the abortion pill, and advocated application to the
Therapeutic Goods Administration for its use in Australia.

In the early 90s, Reynolds was a member of the cross party Parliamentary Population Group, which
sponsored a meeting in Canberra with the medico who piloted the drug’s use
in France and an enquiry was made to the Therapeutic Goods Administration about
bringing forward an application for its use.
Next step, Reynolds was in Paris, again in the early 90s and visited the original
manufacturer, Roussel-Uclas, again with the intention of bringing forward
release in Australia. She had a meeting with the person responsible for
international distribution who surprised her by saying there was no plan to
seek distribution in Australia

“I
have this memorable image in my mind,” Reynolds says. “She went to a
filing cabinet and pulled out not one, two or three, but four drawers filled
with letters from Australia opposed to its use. There had been some publicity
about the drug, not a great deal, but obviously, campaign letters had gone
through the churches and the anti-abortion lobby had made clear ‘don’t try Australia.'”

By 1996, Labor had been defeated and in a deal with
Senator Harradine, it was proposed that the drug come under the discretion of
the Health Minister. And so it was that RU486 became the only drug to be controlled by the
Health Minister, not the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Peter Fray

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