The Food and Drug Administration is in the process of approving the so-called "abortion pill"--RU-486, also known as mifepristone--but it seems to be moving toward imposing certain strict limitations on its use. These include a national register of doctors authorized to prescribe the drug and requirements that such doctors be trained in surgical abortions and have admitting privileges at a hospital within one hour of their offices. Naturally, the abortion-rights lobby is in high dudgeon about this refusal to make the French drug as universally available as aspirin.

A "morning after" pill has long been the Holy Grail of abortion-rights proponents. Such a drug allegedly would "privatize" abortion and place the issue beyond the realm of public debate. A safe, universally available abortion drug would finally make the procedure, as the pro-abortion forces so tirelessly repeat, strictly a matter to be decided between a woman and her doctor.

As someone who believes in the sanctity of human life in all its stages, from conception to natural death, I oppose all abortion procedures, surgical or pharmaceutical. There are sound practical reasons, however, why RU-486 specifically should not be dispensed willy-nilly, as the radical abortion-rights advocates are demanding.

Twenty-seven years after Roe v. Wade, our country is nowhere near a moral consensus on the issue of abortion. Americans remain deeply divided, with the numbers about equally split between those who regard themselves as pro-life and those who support a woman's right to choose. Roughly half of the American people oppose abortion and regard it as the taking of innocent human life. Our body politic should show a decent respect for the deeply held moral and religious beliefs of these Americans.

With more than 1.3 million abortions being performed each year--and half of those representing women who have had multiple abortions--it cannot be seriously suggested that the procedure is not already readily available. Until something like a moral consensus emerges, making abortion more widespread and easier to obtain would be to deliberately poke a thumb in the eye of those who view this issue with profound moral misgivings. Even some advocates of a woman's so-called "right to choose" desire to reduce the incidence of abortion through sound family planning.

One doctor-advocate of RU-486 quoted in news accounts of the FDA's contemplated guidelines found the proposed restrictions "upsetting" because the drug supposedly has been found to be "very, very safe." Like all abortion procedures, RU-486 may be safe for the woman--although this is debatable--but it is invariably fatal to the unborn child. There is no such thing as a "safe abortion." Every abortion takes a life. This is an inescapable medical fact that the morally obtuse abortion advocates are unwilling to face.

RU-486 differs from a mechanical or saline abortion only in the means of death. All result in the end of a life. All are artificial, outside interventions in a natural process that, left unimpeded, would lead to the birth of a human being fully possessed of the "unalienable rights" we celebrate in our Declaration of Independence.

Registering doctors authorized to prescribe the drug and limiting it to those already trained in surgical abortion means the procedure cannot be privatized, hidden from the public's view and thereby put beyond the pale of political protest. A death unwitnessed is no less tragic.

Finally, RU-486 is being vastly oversold. The drug is effective only during the first 49 days of pregnancy. It is not the perfect abortion pill of popular mythology. Many women--especially frightened teens--will pass the deadline for being prescribed the drug before they even realize or are willing to accept that they are pregnant. To be effective, this drug depends on a high degree of personal responsibility being exercised in circumstances of highly charged emotions. Human experience suggests that this is expecting too much.

Women already have the right to choose not to become pregnant. Yet nearly four decades after the Sexual Revolution, sex-ed and condom distribution in the public schools, and the universal availability of contraceptives, we still have more than 1.3 million abortions a year, an epidemic of out-of-wedlock births, and millions of fatherless families. We should not be holding out to women the false promise of a problem-free "morning after" pill or making it even easier for men and women to indulge in casual sex and avoid behaving responsibly.

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