Abortion

This article will not survey the legal history and the current status of abortion law and regulation. This discussion will be limited to RU-486 which, while functioning as an abortion inducer, is thought of by many users as similar to oral contraceptives.

RU-486 is a steroid analogue that, when used with prostaglandin (PG), is able to induce menses within eight weeks of the last menstrual period. It has been called a menstrual regulator in an attempt to distinguish it from contraceptives and abortion inducers, although to theologians the physiological function is clearly that of an abortion inducer. It was approved for use in France in 1988. Limited trials in the United States began in 1994. Shortly after its introduction in France, the manufacturer, Roussel Uclaf, attempted to halt distribution for fear of anti-abortion protests. The French government, a one-third owner of the company, ordered continued manufacture and distribution (Banwell and Paxman).

Whether RU-486/PG will become readily available will depend on each nation's interpretation of relevant abortion laws and regulations. If abortion "is defined to include techniques that operate before implantation is complete, RU-486/PG will be regulated by abortion law. If not, RU-486/PG might be considered similar to a contraceptive and could be made more widely available. This distinction is particularly important because abortion legislation generally imposes criminal penalties" (Banwell and Paxman, p. 1400).

While France considers RU-486/PG an abortion inducer, Germany, New Zealand, and Liberia use a definition of pregnancy in their abortion statutes providing that pregnancy begins only after complete implantation. In these countries, RU-486/PG and any other menses-inducing technique is regulated as a form of contraception. In countries with strict abortion laws in which pregnancy is defined as beginning with fertilization, even early use of RU-486/PG might be barred (Banwell and Paxman).

Many countries in Latin America and Africa have restrictive abortion statutes that require proof of pregnancy. Statutes that require proof of pregnancy will be difficult to use as a barrier to RU-486/PG. Other national statutes criminalize the intent to abort whether or not the woman is pregnant. In these countries, many of which are former French colonies, the widespread use of RU-486/PG is effectively precluded. In societies governed by Islamic law, where pregnancy may be terminated until quickening— when fetal movement is felt—RU-486/PG would likely be acceptable (Banwell and Paxman).

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