Health Minister Tanya Plibersek in her office at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 21 June 2012.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Fairfax

Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced on Sunday that mifepristone and misoprostol - used in combination to terminate a pregnancy of up to seven weeks' gestation would be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Meaning that the $800 women were currently paying for access to the RU486 pill would drop to less than $37 next month.

Unsurprisingly a progressive move that enables women to have greater control over their bodies has been met with anger and fiery condemnation. Pro-life supporters have labelled the move an “abuse of power”.

To mark the occasion may we present ten reasons we are grateful for RU486 (and Tanya Plibersek);

  1. No matter how many times you hear it described as ‘controversial abortion drug RU486.’ It’s not unusual or controversial. In fact it’s safely used by millions of women in more than 40 countries who have had access to it for several years. 

  2. Taking  RU486 is a safer, less invasive procedure than the alternatives not just because it can be performed much earlier than surgical abortions, but because it can be done safely in the privacy of a woman’s home without surgical intervention. 

     
  3. Because women do not use abortions as contraception. And the increased availability of the drug may finally shut down all of the misguided people that peddle that misnomer as truth. An abortion is not a decision women take lightly. For many it can be heartbreaking. Those that refuse to accept this might like to look at the abortion rate in France - they’ve had access to RU486 since 1989 with no discernible change to the abortion rate.

  4. The expansion of access to medical terminations is particularly important to women living in rural and regional Australia. These women have had to travel long distances and be away from family and friends to undergo surgery or not had the option of surgery at all. 

  5. Because it's low cost means all women, equally, will have the right to choose.

  6. Hopefully its introduction will mean an end to the bizarre fear-mongering around the drug. As Clementine Ford said last year, “The pro-birth agenda likes to couch RU486 in deceptive terms, continuing to trot out myths about the dangers of it regularly. RU486 is dangerous! It’s a medical bogey monster waiting to ruin the lives of unsuspecting women - perhaps even end them! Doctors are force-feeding abortions to women so they can line their gold plated Satanic altars with more gold! In fact, RU486 is five times LESS likely to result in death than Viagra, and 13 times less likely to result in death than actually having a baby. Kind of puts things in perspective - but hey, we can’t have anyone interfering with an old man’s right to an erection.”

     
  7. Because we live in a world where , even in the West, the control women have over their bodies is under such threat that a Texas Senator stood for over 13 hours  last week to stop an anti-abortion bill. It’s with a sense of relief that Australia seems to be taking steps in the opposite direction.

  8. I offer simply this quote from Tanya Plibersek, “by offering this different option at a very difficult time in a woman's life, I hope that we are giving more choice in what are often extraordinarily difficult circumstances." 

  9. We all know Tony Abbott has an uncomfortable relationship with a woman’s right to choose.  Back when he was health minister he tried to keep ministerial control of the importation of RU486. It took a conscience vote of the parliament in 2006 to put the say in the hands of the Therapeutic Drugs Administration. It’s seems timely to have made this progress so close to an election that may make him the most powerful politician in the country.

     
  10. There were some alarming rumblings around abortion law in NSW this past weekend. A controversial bill giving legal rights to an unborn child was said to be supported by the O'Farrell government under a deal with Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile. Nile claimed the government had promised to pass ''Zoe's Law'', which creates a separate criminal offence for causing harm to or the destruction of a foetus and stemmed from the deaths of unborn children in driving accidents. Nile said this was in exchange for his support for crucial state budget legislation to privatise Newcastle Port. Though O’Farrell said yesterday this was untrue, murky deals that involve the rights of unborn children ring alarm bells. RU486 is a step forward but it does not mean the fight is over.

    And here's a bonus reason:

     
  11. Because as former Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at the AMA ahead of the announcement that RU486 would be added to the PBS.  “Women must have the right to health care and women must have the right to choose.”

The revised PBS listings take effect in August. Amen.