The last few days has seen Australian parliament locked in passionate and intense debate about whether politicians or the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Authority) should decide to make RU486 available to Australian women.
The TGA determines the safety of any drugs and pharmaceuticals.
Closely behind the push by some politicians to ban it is to get a foot in the door to put the right to abortion back on the table and overturn it. Another item on the agenda of GW Bush and the religious right.
The Australian community's concern has been that no politician should be solely responsible for making moral and ethical decisions.
Our current Health Minister - who is catholic - has [did have ] the power to overturn any senate decision.
I know this drug is available in the USA and I wondered if it had faced any controversy there, political or health wise, and if there any 'history' about RU486 anyone would care to share?
If the decision is made to ban the drug here, I believe it will create serious implications for the use of the drug in the US as well.
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Friday February 10, 02:29 AM
RU486 bill headed for lower house
The emotional debate over RU486 will now move to the House of Representatives after senators overwhelmingly backed a bill stripping the health minister of his powers over the abortion drug.
After two days of personal stories and a rare conscience vote, senators supported a private members' bill - 45 to 28 - transferring the minister's powers to experts at the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Now for the bill to become law - overturning an effective ban on RU486 - it must be passed by the House of Representatives.
The bill's fate in the lower house is less clear. For one thing the chamber is significantly more male-dominated and the Senate vote showed the issue was split more along gender, than party, lines.
Health Minister Tony Abbott remains adamant that control over the drug should remain a ministerial decision.
"Whatever faults we have, I think our decisions are ... better decisions because we are subject to the kind of democratic accountability that officials aren't," he said.
Mr Abbott was unhappy with the Senate's decision to back the bill, describing it as a vote of no confidence in his capacity as health minister.
"I am disappointed with the vote," he said.
"The Senate has effectively voted no confidence in ministers and the parliament on this issue."
But he dispelled rumours that he may quit the health portfolio if the bill gets through the lower house as well.
The bill moves to the House of Representatives next week.
Opposition health spokeswoman Julia Gillard is optimistic that the bill will pass the lower house.
"The size of the margin in the Senate does bode well for the House," she told ABC TV.
"What the Senate has been doing is probably pretty indicative of what the House of Reps will do."
Ms Gillard also took note of the overwhelming number of women in the Senate who supported the bill.
"Of the 30 women in the Senate, 27 voted in favour," she said.
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Yes, but abortion pill fight isn't over
February 10, 2006
The House of Representatives will decide next week whether to strip the Minister for Health of his power of approval over the so-called abortion drug RU486 after the Senate voted decisively to end the effective ban last night.
Forty-five senators voted in favour of having the Therapeutic Goods Administration assess the safety of the drug and 28 against.
"It's a credit to politicians in the Senate that members listened not only to their conscience but also to the voice of the majority of Australians," said the Democrats leader, Lyn Allison.
"I believe it is a unique piece of Australian political history that a Senate-based, cross-party bill sponsored by women has passed."
If the bill is passed by the lower house next week, which is uncertain, it is unlikely RU486 would be available in Australia for several months.
Instead, the drugs watchdog would have to assess the safety of the drug once it received an application for a licence to import it.
With a high degree of public interest in the drug, any application would almost certainly be surrounded by controversy.
National advertisements for and against it were taken out in newspapers this week as both sides of the debate tried to win support for their positions.
Most of the Senate's time yesterday was spent debating the private member's bill, which was sponsored by four senators - the National Fiona Nash, the Liberal Judith Troeth, Labor's Claire Moore and the Democrats' Senator Allison.
But while arguments both for and against were passionate, senators did not delve into personal experiences as they did on Wednesday.
Many called for better sex education and counselling for women with unwanted pregnancies.
The former defence minister, Robert Hill, who voted for the change, said he would like to see "more and better sex education within schools and the wider community, easier access and increased availability of publicly funded counselling in sexual matters, and ready and confidential access to a range of contraception options from the age of sexual maturity".
Government senators proposed two amendments giving
Parliament greater scrutiny of any ministerial decision regarding the drug. Both were defeated.
The Nationals' Senate leader, Ron Boswell, said it was a "sad day for Australian society as the Senate has abrogated its responsibility to take the hard decisions".
The Liberal and Labor parties have allowed their members a conscience vote, but both leaders have already indicated how they will vote.
The Prime Minister, John Howard, said on Wednesday he favoured retaining ministerial approval over abortifacients.
The Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, said yesterday that although he was personally opposed to abortion, he was in favour of changing the approval process for RU486.
"The public believes that it's a matter between a woman and her doctor," Mr Beazley said.
"This particular issue is a matter of what is the proper process for determining the availability of drugs."