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Abortion pill to become more widely available -

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ELEANOR HALL: The abortion drug RU486 is set to become more widely used in Australia.

Three years ago, Federal Parliament removed the Health Minister's right to veto the use of the
drug, but it was still only available at a limited number of hospitals, until now. Now one of the
nation's largest family planning clinics has been authorised to prescribe the drug, as Meredith
Griffiths reports.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Advocates of RU486 say it's important that women be given the option of medical
abortions because they are less invasive and more private than surgery.

After lengthy debate about the drug, in 2006 a conscience vote in Federal Parliament stripped the
Health Minister of the right to veto its use and gave that power to the Therapeutic Goods
Administration.

But since then only a very small amount of doctors have applied to prescribe it. And the leading
family planning organisation, Marie Stopes International, says the use is quite restricted.

Jill Michelson is the organisation's national clinical advisor.

JILL MICHELSON: Quite often is has been for women who have got severe medical conditions that are
requiring them to abort or there are near-natal issues.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Marie Stopes has now received authorisation for doctors in its nine clinics
around the country to prescribe RU486 to women in their first trimester.

Jill Michelson says it has taken longer than expected for the organisation to get approval.

JILL MICHELSON: We would have preferred that if a drug company would have gone directly to the TGA
and got that approval across the board. But because that was taking so long, we felt that we needed
to do something in the interim.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Do you know if any companies have applied?

JILL MICHELSON: We wouldn't be aware of that and we're still hoping that that's going to occur. Of
course, this is authorised, prescribed status is only lasts two years, and we're hoping within that
two-year timeframe that a drug company does apply to the TGA and gets that approval.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says it's not unusual that no
drug company has applied to import RU486.

Federal secretary Dr Gino Pecoraro.

GINO PECORARO: Because of the emotional nature of the drug and what it's used for, companies may be
put off because they don't want to be put into the spotlight as the importer of a drug that they
know is going to engender strong opinion in both directions in the community.

The second thing is that they may make an economically based decision where it's not viable for
them or the profit margins are not large enough.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The Australian Medical Association says it's very expensive and complicated for
drug companies to make applications to the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The association's president, Dr Andrew Pesce has welcomed the news that RU486 will now be more
widely available, but he says that will not lead to a greater number of abortions in Australia.

ANDREW PESCE: There are studies now in countries where RU486 was introduced some years ago. And
they've been very specifically looking at whether or not the availability of this increases the
rate of terminations to pregnancy in a country, and the evidence would suggest that isn't the case.
It's just that some women who were going to terminate a pregnancy make the choice to have a medical
termination rather than a surgical termination.

But there is no evidence that I am aware of that suggests that this increases the number or
percentage of pregnancies that are terminated.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: But the Australian Christian Lobby disagrees. Spokesman Lyle Shelton is worried
that the drug will now be more aggressively promoted by groups like Marie Stopes.

LYLE SHELTON: The last thing that women need is another way to chemically kill their babies. What
is needed is more support for women who find themselves in a situation where they have an
unsupported pregnancy and we should be really offering a greater choice for women rather than just
the default position that abortion is really the only approach and by then broadening the
availability of abortion through the more widespread availability of this chemical cocktail which
poisons the unborn child before expelling it.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: RU486 is available at Marie Stopes clinics from today.

ELEANOR HALL: Meredith Griffiths reporting.