Thursday, August 09, 2001

Under bill, psychiatrist would OK RU-486

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — A legislator from Cincinnati wants to require women to get the approval of a psychiatrist before they receive the federally approved abortion pill RU-486.

        Republican Rep. Tom Brinkman said he doubted the legislature could ban the drug outright. He said the legislation he plans to introduce this month would make it so difficult to obtain the pill that it would effectively prohibit its use.

        “If it becomes an effective ban, people aren't using it and babies aren't dying,” Mr. Brinkman said.

        An abortion-rights group said such a measure would be condescending toward women and the only one of its type among about 20 bills that have been introduced in legislatures to restrict access to RU-486.

        Attorneys are working with Mr. Brinkman and other backers — he said he has more than 30 co-sponsors in the 99-member House — to ensure that the bill would stand up under the U.S. and Ohio constitutions.

        However, Mr. Brinkman doubts the bill will get quick consideration. The legislature isn't expected to return until Sept. 11 for six weeks of sessions before recessing for the rest of the year.

        Women should get psychiatric approval because treatment with RU-486 is “a traumatic experience,” Mr. Brinkman said.

        First, a woman swallows three mifepristone pills. Mifepristone blocks action of a hormone essential for maintaining pregnancy. Without that hormone, progesterone, the uterine lining thins so the embryo cannot remain implanted.

        To fully detach the embryo from the uterus and expel it, two days later a woman must swallow a second drug, misoprostol, that causes uterine contractions.

        Then, she must return for a follow-up visit within two weeks to make sure the abortion is complete. Some women need a surgical abortion. Mr. Brinkman's idea “seems very condescending to women and women's decision-making,” said Elizabeth Cavendish, legal director for the National Abortion Rights Action League. She likened the bill to laws in Ohio and other states that require a woman to wait 24 hours after notifying a doctor of her intention to have an abortion.

        “But it goes a step farther because it assumes the existence of post-abortion trauma syndrome that doesn't actually exist,” Ms. Cavendish said. “Medical literature shows that women who were depressed following an abortion probably were depressed before the abortion.”

        Mark Lally, legal director for the anti-abortion group Right to Life of Ohio, said his office would not comment on Mr. Brinkman's proposed legislation.

        Ms. Cavendish said she doesn't expect a new wave of restrictions on RU-486 because its use already is covered by most abortion laws. The drug, which must be administered by a physician, is used early in a woman's pregnancy so it probably will not draw objections from people who oppose late-term abortions, she said.

        “Most state lawmakers are well aware that the public's support for women's right to choose is earliest in the pregnancy,” Ms. Cavendish said. “If they attack misoprostol too strongly, the public will understand they are attacking women.”

        Republican Gov. Bob Taft, who opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or if the woman's life is in danger, had not been briefed on the legislation and would need to research its constitutionality, a spokeswoman said.


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