Thursday, February 09, 2006

Playing God with abortifacients

Playing politics with reproductive rights In 1996 Brian Harradine decided that it was necessary block the Therapeutic Goods Administration from considering the abortion pill RU486 and other abortifacients for use in Australia. Why? Apparently he believed "abortifacients amounted to a special category of drugs for which an additional layer of public scrutiny was required". What a load of codswallop. Make that an additional layer of impossibly thick red tape to get through. Specifically, make that virtually impossible to import and use RU486 in Australia. And this has nothing to do with the fact he is a staunch/fundamendalist Catholic and would've liked to have banned abortion altogether (L. Buckmaster, 2005).

Today the senate will decide whether to repeal Harradine's legislation that stopped the TGA controlling RU486. But why are we even having this debate about whether the TGA or the Australian Parliament should control the approval of abortifacients? I belive Harradine's original bill in 1996 and opposition to today's bill on allowing TGA control of RU486 is all about politics and has absolutely nothing at all to do with protecting women.

Why is it that when it comes to the issue of abortion that emotive words and religious beliefs hold are allowed to hold so much sway over the issue? Of course, the decision of whether to abort a foetus is a difficult ethical dilemma and one I'm glad I've never had to face. But all the emotive words from self-important men about moral obligations to carry through a pregnancy, and high-handed control over the approval of abortifacients in the senate to limit the options of women are not the slighest bit helpful to women who face this decision.

The TGA is specially charged with making drugs and other therapeutic products unavailable or available with restrictions, depending on how safe they consider the product to be. The TGA includes medical and chemical experts and I say let these experts do what they do best. Let's not leave it up to (potentially) fundamentalist, misogynist or otherwise inexpert politicians to decide such things.

Without exception, all of the politicians opposed to the bill are using their opposition as a way to express their disapproval of abortion itself, and secondly as a way to express that they would prefer that parliament say who has a baby and when. For some reason, when it comes to abortion, the pollies think they have a right to play God and enforce their personal morals on to the entire populace.

For example, Nick Minchin also wants to continue to block the Therapeutic Goods Administration from considering the abortion pill RU486 for use in Australia. Why? Because his former girlfriend had aborted what he assumed was his child (presumably against his will). Controlling the importation and use of RU486 in parliament is really going to make him feel better, because now he can relish having a tiny bit more control over the next woman he impregnates.

And then we have ham-fisted Barnaby Joyce saying "There is a right of a person to proceed through life without another person believing they have a right to kill them." Good point Barnaby, but I'm not sure I quite get how this relates to foetuses and pregnancy.

In response to Barnaby and others who should exercise their brains a bit more, I must quote a few lines of Andrew Barlett's timely and well-though-out speech on RU486.
To label as murderers people who choose to have an abortion or who assist someone to do that and to label RU486 as a human pesticide or a drug designed to kill babies is an abuse of language and a vilification of women. It is a vilification of women who find themselves in a situation of extreme difficulty. The last thing they need is this sort of abuse.
Want more? See a previous post I wrote on the topic, involving a mad abbot on the hill.

My colleague, formerly a gynaecologist/obstetrician in China for 10 years, told me about the widespread use of RU486 in China and how it is available straight off the shelf in China. She also told me about its misuse and the ugly cases they have to deal with when the drug has been taken too late in a pregnancy. It is indisputably wrong that an abortifacient would be misused in this way without some sensible control of distribution of the drug by medical professionals. If the bill is passed today, I don't think anyone is asking for it to be available without restrictions or without qualified medical supervision. But let this be an issue to be managed properly, without emotive anti-logic and politics, but with attention to medical and ethical studies by the TGA and medical practitioners &ndash this is their area of expertise and let's allow them to apply it!

In finishing this rant, I must say it does seem interesting that RU486 is so freely available in China, where strict population control has been enforced for many years, not just with the one-child policy, but back to the time of the cultural revolution, where permission had to be obtained from the state for a couple to go ahead and have a child. Yet in Australia, where every so often we see frightening and alarmist articles about declining birthrates and aging populations, a drug like RU486 receives so much intense opposition.

Stop playing politics with our reproductive rights!

Image courtesy of Peter Kuper
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Blogger Anthony said...

I was surprised to learn that Senator Vanstone would be voting in favour of the bill.

Religion should have nothing to do with this entire issue. Indeed, it shouldn't ever rear its head in politics at all. Wishful thinking.

February 09, 2006 5:09 pm  
Blogger Lisa said...

You're right, Anthony, I'm too much of an idealist, but I'll keep writing idealistically so I don't forget how things *could* be!

You shocked me for a second, because, despite her typically-nasty politics I thought she'd support this bill! I checked the breakdown of the votes and it turns out she did support it. So I guess we better give her some grudging credit for that!

February 09, 2006 6:36 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

Your comment that you're probably too much of an idealist reminded me of a quote I heard from my beloved Meryl Streep yesterday. Discussing Iraq and the latest Supreme Court appointees, she said:

"I'm so demoralized. I want a candidate to come out of nowhere and have no conflicts. I want major campaign reform. I want Jesus to come back and throw the money lenders out. Everybody in the administration should have a kid in that conflict. Then they'll know how they feel about it."

Sounds like she's a fellow idealist. But, like you said, it's probably a good thing to have that sort of approach.

February 10, 2006 8:48 pm  

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