Australia clears way for abortion pill

Australia's parliament has voted to strip the health minister of regulatory control of an abortion pill, clearing the way for the drug to be made available for use in the country.

    The abortion bill sparked emotional debate in parliament

    A show of voices in the House of Representatives on Thursday indicated overwhelming support for a bill that removed regulatory authority for the abortion pill mifepristone from Tony Abbott, the health minister who is a Roman Catholic.

    No official vote count was taken.

    Control over the drug, known as RU-486, will now be with Australia's main drug regulator, the Therapuetic Goods Administration.


    In 1996, parliament voted to place control of RU-486 with the federal health minister. That position has been held since 2003 by Abbot who opposes use of the pill.

    Last week, the Senate voted 45-28 to give regulatory control over RU-486 back to the TGA, a government body of scientists and doctors that regulates all other drugs in Australia.

    State-regulated

    Thursday's vote from the lower house was expected to clear the way for the drug's approval in Australia.

    Lyn Allison, one of the bill's co-authors, said: "It is a winner for Australian women and their families and also a winner for the House of Representatives.

    "I'm glad reason has triumphed over spin. The Therapeutic Goods Administration is clearly best placed to determine the safety of RU-486."

    Abortion in Australia is regulated by the states, and has been legal for 30 years. The procedure is funded by Australia's public health system and there is little debate over its legal status.

    "It is a winner for Australian women and their families"

    Lyn Allison, Senator, Democrats


    Nevertheless, the debate over RU-486 generated emotional arguments during the senate debate before last week's vote.

    Many senators recounted their personal experiences with abortion, including Allison.

    In a speech, she said: "An estimated one in three women have had an abortion - and I am one of those."

    Essential choice

    An ally of John Howard, the prime minister, said on Wednesday that 18 years ago he had to choose whether to allow doctors to perform an aborttion on his unconscious wife.

     

    Peter Costello, the treasurer, said that he deciced against abortion, but it was important for him to have been given the choice.

     

    "By the grace of God, both survived," Costello told parliament. "But I have no doubt that the law should not have prevented such a choice."

    Allison said both the abortion rights and anti-abortion camps had been swamped with overseas research about the drug, much of it from the US.

    Before the bill was introduced, a Senate inquiry into RU-486 received more than 1,000 submissions from advocacy groups and private individuals on both sides of the debate - including two from the United States.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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