October 21st 2000

  Buy Issue 2594

Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: Apples and AQIS

Editorial: Human-pig embryos: what next?

The Economy: Australia risks being left out in the cold

Canberra Observed: PM's "body surf" swamps ALP

STRAWS IN THE WIND: What peace process?

Bioethics: RU 486 - part of the disease, not part of the cure

The Media


Co-operatives: The growing threat to credit unions, mutuals

Law: Marcis Neave - Victoria's new Law Reform Commisisoner

Health: Who's buying up our GPs ... and why?

Asia: Is Hong Kong's democracy finished?

Books: 'The Lily Theatre', 'Mao's Children in the New China'

Film Review: East/West

Books promotion page

Bioethics: RU 486 - part of the disease, not part of the cure

by David van Gend

News Weekly, October 21, 2000
The approval of the abortion pill RU486 by the US Food and Drug Administration fulfils President Clinton's 1993 promise to make the drug readily available. Senator Meg Lees and some medical practitioners have called for the drug to be imported to Australia, which requires the direct approval of the Commonwealth Health Minister. Other doctors oppose the move. Dr David van Gend, of the World Federation of Doctors who Respect Human Life, outlines why.

The twin deaths of abortion - the death of the baby, and the deathly effects of that action on the inner life of the mother - are the twin paths along which opposition to abortion proceeds, the two axes for analysing any new desecration like RU486.

Each death is the end of the world - for the baby, a unique human existence is destroyed, a beating heart is silenced, a name never before spoken is erased from the human story.

For the mother, her inner body becomes a place of death. Her fundamental contract with life - to live and let live - is violated, and for many women a self-torturing psyche metes out the punishment in depression, sexual and emotional withdrawal.

RU486 will have its greatest impact on this second death. As to the first death, there is no moral or legal difference between killing an unwanted baby surgically or with poison. RU486 brings no greater degree of shame or criminality to the act. But the consequences of RU486 for the second death are novel and significant, unanswerable truth.

They are to be kept condescendingly in the dark, treated as moral invalids who must be protected from the facts. Or else they might run from the table. With surgical abortion, the mother need never see the baby. But with RU486, she will be vividly aware of the whole abortion process, swallowing the poison, acting out a mockery of labour where every spasm speaks of death, not life, and wide awake at the time of delivery of a dead baby.


Surely this is a recipe for nightmares. Even early abortion will be painfully drawn out over three visits to the doctor, with time to reflect but no time to turn back, ending in the loneliness of a disturbed heavy period to expel the embryo.

Women who have a spontaneous, innocent miscarriage can suffer genuine grief and loss. How much more complicated will that grief be when the miscarriage is not spontaneous or innocent, but premeditated and culpable.

And what of the women who go through an RU486 abortion without really understanding what they are doing, perhaps bullied into it by a boyfriend? These especially are the ones for whom something inside dies, and there are few more challenging experiences for a counsellor than working through this death.

Perhaps there is a third death associated with abortion, and in particular with RU486.

As in war, where the first casualty is said to be truth, so in this culture war, we observe a withering die-back of intellectual honesty by doctors. Their dishonesty consists in portraying the "morning after" use of RU486 as morally innocent, and therefore acceptable grounds for importing the drug.

RU486, and other forms of "morning-after" pill, act to destroy the new human embryo.

It is highly misleading to call this destructive act "preventing pregnancy", which is the standard phrase used by advocates of RU486 - or, more absurdly, "emergency contraception". The distinction matters vitally to many people, as to whether they are doing something to themselves ("preventing pregnancy") or to another life, and no doctor should mislead them.

Are the doctors lying? Not exactly, because they have conveniently redefined pregnancy so that it commences only once the embryo is about a week old. Therefore they can kill the early human creature with RU486 and call it "preventing pregnancy"!

In fact, this was Senator Meg Lees explanation on ABC Radio: "This [RU486] isn't about a termination. This is for a woman who has decided she does not want a pregnancy."

There is something unsettling in watching a woman use the Senate to promote poisons that were once the province of brothel Madams and medieval hags. There is something shameful in doctors using verbal tricks to dupe the public, in the service of a drug to kill their "other patient".

There is something desperately sick with our society when the twin deaths of abortion proceed at a rate of a primary school classroom of children each day. RU486, if any Federal Health Minister gave approval for its importation, would be part of the disease, not of the cure.

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