WASHINGTON -- Abortion foes bitterly denounced government approval of the abortion pill RU-486 and vowed to continue to fight a drug they called "baby poison" and a threat to women's health.
But Thursday's approval by the Food and Drug Administration alters that fight, promising to make abortions more accessible in private doctors' offices instead of the surgical clinics staked out by anti-abortion protesters.
The drug's approval ends a battle that has spanned two presidencies, several countries and heated debate for 12 years. It gives American women a pharmaceutical abortion method already in wide use in France, Britain, China and 10 other countries.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, called the FDA decision "wrong" and said he feared that the availability of RU-486 "will make abortions more and more common."
Health experts, however, said abortions did not increase after the drug was introduced in Europe.
A Bush campaign spokesman said a president cannot order drugs off the market, but, if elected, Bush would appoint an FDA commissioner "to make sure the FDA considered the risk and did not take this action as a result of political pressure from the White House."
Vice President Al Gore, Bush's Democratic opponent, supported approval of the abortion pill, saying the decision was "not about politics, but the health and safety of American women and a woman's fundamental right to choose."
RU-486 was developed in France and became available there in 1988. In 1989, the FDA banned importation of the drug for personal use. In 1993, President Clinton ordered a re-evaluation of the ban and sought ways to provide RU-486 for U.S. researchers after its French manufacturer, under anti-abortion pressure, refused to supply it.
The pill, known chemically as mifepristone and by the brand name Mifeprex, will be available to doctors within a month.
Mifepristone blocks a hormone vital to sustaining pregnancy and works only during the first seven weeks of pregnancy, when an embryo is about one-fifth of an inch.
Two days after taking mifepristone, women take a second drug that causes cramping and bleeding as the embryo is expelled, much like a miscarriage.
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