Abortion Pill Decision Near

By the end of this month, the Food and Drug Administration must decide the future of one of the most controversial drugs it has ever considered.

CBS News' Randall Pinkston tells us the abortion pill RU-486, marketed for years in Europe, may get government approval here.

RU-486, also known as mifepristone, has been a political hot potato since it was introduced in France more than a dozen years ago. First President Bush banned its importation, but later, President Clinton approved it for clinical trials.

In 1996, the FDA said the abortion pill is safe and effective. Now it will decide whether to grant RU-486 final marketing approval.

"We're very hopeful that the FDA will see fit to approve mifepristone next week and create a new era for choice for women," says Gloria Feldt, President of Planned Parenthood.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports approval of the drug, but anti-abortion groups are vehemently opposed.

"We would want women to know about the dangers of RU-486, the potential it has to hurt them and certainly the fact that it does take the life of an unborn child," says Laura Echevarria of the National Right to Life Committee.

Anti-abortion groups are focusing on the drug's side effects, but researchers here say complications occur infrequently. More than 500,000 women have used the drug in Europe and in clinical trials in the US. Dr. Anne Davis helped conduct one of the trials in the US.

"In people who are less than 8 weeks from their last menstrual period the success rate is above 95%, and that means having an abortion successfully without the surgery," she says.

But even if the FDA approves it, RU-486 may not make abortion more accessible. Many doctors were reluctant to talk to CBS News about RU-486, fearing harassment and reprisals--evidence that others may be reluctant to prescribe it for the same reasons.

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