The recent recommendation to subsidize the abortion drug RU486 has been met with mixed reactions. Whilst there is always opposition to any form of pregnancy termination from pro-life groups, it is the response of one particular group of feminists that is drawing an interesting new slant on the abortion debate.
Some women are arguing that you can be Pro-choice but anti-RU486.
Highly revered feminist and scholar Renate Klein, is known for her views on RU486. She co-authored a book on the drug in 1992: RU486: Misconceptions, Myths and Morals. The book explored the history of the drug and the associated health and ethical considerations.
RU486: Misconceptions, Myths and Morals is being republished with a new introduction by Klein in July.
The announcement that RU486 was being considered to being added to the PBS was met with trepidation from Klein. She does not believe that the drug should receive financial subsidy from the government.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee’s (PBAC) proposed the subsidy; they named the drug in their list of positive recommendations to be considered for the governments Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
The document states that the decision to list the RU486 drugs is made: “on the basis of similar effectiveness and lower cost compared with surgical termination of pregnancy.”
Currently the cost of a medical abortion at a Marie Stopes International Australia clinic is $450. The proposed subsidy would see this cost fall drastically, to as little as $36.10.
Current Federal Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek has announced her support of the subsidy saying that it would be beneficial for those in remote or underprivileged areas.
“It [RU486] should not be prescribed to women in remote/country areas. And if it is they still need to come back for absolutely crucial examination 2-3 weeks after the abortion. So no [it does not make the process of having an abortion less costly or traumatic for those living in remote areas.]” said Klein.
Whilst there is no denying that the subsidy would make abortions more financially accessible, Klein argues that this is not what we should be considering when legalizing or promoting a health service.
“[If the subsidy is introduced] Pill abortions will become cheaper than suction abortions. This will push many more women into using the drugs instead of asking for the much safer suction abortion, preferably with a local anesthetic,” says Klein.
“It’s a myth that pill abortions are not invasive,” she says.
Klein is of the opinion that RU486 is often elected as preferred mode of pregnancy termination under the guise of it being a less invasive procedure than the alternative (surgical abortion.)
“If RU486 is added to the PBS, it is important to get the message out to women needing abortions that they should think twice before they opt for days of pain, misery and emotional upsets (possibly followed by a second abortion), rather than a 99 per cent effective and safe suction abortion in a controlled clinic environment. This is especially true for women in rural and remote areas for whom this abortion method is especially dangerous.”
When asked whether she thought women were not aware of all the side effects of the drugs, Klein responded by saying ‘it often is [the case] by simply saying to a women ‘it is safe and easy…’”
Marie Stopes International Australia won the right to be legal prescribers of the drugs used in medical abortion in late 2012.
According to a statement made by the TGA ‘the availability of the products [colloquially called RU486] will be managed by the commercial partner, Marie Stopes International Australia.
On their website it states that each patient ‘will have a consultations with a Dr Marie nurse or doctor who will explain the process in full… along with any side effects you can experience from the medication.’
They also provide 24hr after care and a two-week final assessment, to ensure that the drug was effective.
Klein stated that if Marie Stopes received financial subsidy for medical abortions it would do little to improve the experience of abortion.
“[If the subsidy is introduced] Pill abortions will become cheaper than suction abortions. This will push many more women into using the drugs instead of asking for the much safer suction abortion, preferably with a local anaesthetic,” says Klein.
Plibersek has indicated that she wanted a final decision on whether to include the drug in the PBS to be made before the upcoming election.
Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, is not unfamiliar with the drug. In 2006 during his time as Federal Health Minister he famously tried to block RU486, leading to parliament stripping his right of Veto
RU486 has been listed on the World Health Organizations list of essential medicines for over twenty years.
The right to an abortion is always going to be a contentious topic in Australian society, and Klein wants to make her stance clear that she supports a woman’s right to choose, she just doesn’t want to see cost outweighing safety when a woman is considering her options.
“It is possible to be in favour of woman’s access to SAFE abortion – as I am- AND be very critical of RU486/PG abortion,’ she says.