Media Watch: Editorials applaud FDA decision on abortion drug

Bypassing general news coverage, CARMA focused exclusively on the editorial reaction of the country's leading newspapers to the decision. It found that editorial boards across the land were nearly unanimous in their support of the FDA. Among the nearly two dozen publications monitored, only one editorial opposed the decision.

The various newspapers focused on different reasons why the FDA's decision should be supported, but almost all of the editorials noted that, although the drug would be new to the US, it has been used throughout Europe and Canada for more than a decade. The Omaha World-Herald (October 2) wrote, 'There's a years-long track record on this matter in Canada and a dozen European nations ... About RU-486, this much can be said with confidence: It is at least as safe as surgical abortion, far safer than its most strident critics try to brand it.'

One of the most frequently cited benefits of the FDA's decision was that RU-486 presented women with a new choice for abortion, an alternative to surgery, where the risk of complications was seen as greater. The editorials saw it as a more private way for women to make their decision, rather than having to be confronted by protesters outside of abortion clinics.

The San Francisco Chronicle (October 2) suggested, 'Privacy is what makes this pill an attractive option to women considering an abortion, and a maddening prospect to the anti-abortion zealots who have been stalking and harassing patients and doctors at abortion clinics.'

Several editorials positioned the FDA's decision as a victory of science over politics. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (September 29) argued, 'The 12-year saga that preceded the final approval is a frightening example of politics meddling in women's health ... FDA approval means that science triumphed over politics.'

The editorials also praised the FDA's decision because it makes abortion more accessible to rural women. The New York Times (September 30) championed this aspect of the decision: 'A key benefit of this drug is that it will give women in communities with no surgical abortion services an option that their primary care doctors can administer.'

The editorials' only major caution was that RU-486 entails some risks of side-effects. The Washington Times (October 4), the lone overall critic of the decision, described bleeding, cramping, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea and surgery in rare cases when the pill did not work effectively.

Judging from the sample analyzed, supporters of RU-486 were in the vast majority. But the press is notoriously liberal, and the editorials correctly noted that the FDA's decision would not diminish the intense debate over abortion overnight.

Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at

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