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Are Australian women so ill-informed?

By Tania Ewing - posted Friday, 6 January 2006

I too am neither a Catholic, male or a right-to-lifer, yet I was appalled to read Renate Klein’s opinion piece in On Line Opinion which claims that as a feminist and health activist, she believed that the abortion pill RU486 was too unsafe for Australian women to use.

Klein’s case was yet another example of an individual arguing that Australian women are so lamb-like, so ill-informed, that they need someone to make a decision for them. Let’s not give women (rural or otherwise) the choice of whether they want a medical abortion using RU486 or a suction abortion. No, let’s simply limit their options to keep them safe. What century are we in again?

Klein makes much of four deaths from infection in the United States among women who aborted using RU486. As tragic as these deaths are, the FDA has evaluated the risk of mortality from this cause at around one in 100,000 women. This rate is identical to the mortality risk associated with suction abortion, and far lower than women’s risk of dying if a pregnancy is brought to term.


Klein also fails to mention that the US deaths have not been conclusively linked to RU486. The drug has been used for over a decade in Europe and no cases of the rare infection that killed these US women have ever been seen.

Equally perplexing is Klein’s confidence in her assessment about the drug’s safety. She is at odds with the World Health Organisation, the Federation of International Gynaecology and Obstetrics, the Cochrane Collaboration, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Australian Medical Association, the Rural Doctors' Association - all of whom support the use of RU486 for early medical termination under proper medical supervision. There’s also the fact that millions of women worldwide have used RU 486. It's licenced for use in over 30 countries, including the US, UK, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden, Israel, Turkey and China.

If Klein is right and everyone else is wrong, then surely if the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is allowed to hold an inquiry into the drug’s safety - just as they have done for the 50,000 therapeutic drugs that Australians rely on every day - she will be vindicated? Why is it that when it comes to this drug, and no other, that people like Klein and Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott feel that the TGA is incapable of fulfilling its mandate to determine whether the risks associated with the use of RU486 are acceptable?

Of course women should be informed of the risk of morbidity and mortality associated with RU486, as they should about all drugs and procedures they undertake. Instead Klein argues that - because she wouldn’t choose medical abortion over surgical abortion - Australian women shouldn’t have that option either.

Klein insists she is a feminist health activist. I thought the definition of a feminist health activist is one who actively works to help women make informed and voluntary decisions about their health based on their own values, not the values of others. The fact that Klein has spent the past few years launching the publications of two of Australia’s most high-profile anti-choice activists - Melinda Tankard Reist and Selena Ewing - also raises questions about her claim to be pro-choice.

An abortion is a personal decision - between a woman and her doctor. Whether abortion takes place surgically or using RU486, the law in most states says doctors must decide whether a woman qualifies for one. Whether abortion takes place surgically or using RU486, medical supervision will always be required. This is not in dispute.


What Klein does dispute is the capacity for Australian women to assess the risks and benefits associated with RU486. A mighty strange position for a feminist to take.

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About the Author

Tania Ewing is a former journalist and Board member of Family Planning Victoria.

Related Links
RU486 - messy, unpredictable, unsafe - On Line Opinion

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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