RU-486: An Attempt to Hide the Truth


Recently, the newspapers and television news programs have had reports on the drug RU-486, an abortion drug. I have heard some people say that this drug is something good because it eliminates the need for an abortion and is really just a form of contraception. As Catholics, how do we view this drug?

RU-486 (named after the pharmaceutical company "Roussel Uclaf" and manufactured by Hoechst A.G.), also called Mifepristone, was first approved 12 years ago in France and is widely available in Europe, most recently in Spain, Russia, and Israel. Pharmaceutical suppliers estimate that over 600,000 women have used RU-486. In the United States, Planned Parenthood has actively sought the approval of the drug for usage in the United States. To understand the Church's position on RU-486, we must first understand the evolution of contraceptive pills and then the difference between a contraceptive and an abortifacient.

Since the advent of the "Pill" back in 1960, medical technology has made further developments in the area of contraception. Technically, the original pills were anovulents made of an extremely high dosage of synthetic hormones. Taken orally, these anovulents suppressed ovulation and thereby prevented conception. Studies have shown that while the original pills were very effective in preventing ovulation, the medical side effects were disastrous, e.g. the high incidence of various forms of cancer, heart problems, and blood clots.

In response, some pharmaceutical firms developed a "double barreled" type of "contraceptive" which was intended not only to suppress ovulation but also, if that failed and conception occurred, to prevent the implantation of the newly conceived life. Essentially these new "contraceptives" made the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) hostile to the conceived life and caused its expulsion from the body. Therefore, these drugs which prevent the implantation are not really contraceptives, which prevent conception, but abortifacients, which expel a conceived new life.

"The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Facilities" (1971) stated, "Abortion, that is the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability, is never permitted nor is the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo" (No. 12). Therefore, abortifacients are declared morally wrong under the teachings concerning abortion.

Here lies the problem of RU-486. This drug, a synthetic hormone, blocks the hormone progesterone which prepares the uterus to receive the newly conceived life. As a result, the newly conceived life is expelled from the uterus. Researchers report a 96 percent effectiveness rate when RU-486 is used in conjunction with another drug, Prostaglandin Misoprostol.

Remember the Second Vatican Council asserted, "Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes" "Gaudium et Spes," No. 51). The "Declaration on Procured Abortion" (1974), released in response at least partially to the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, affirmed that life is sacred from conception and that directly intended abortion is an intrinsically evil act.

This position is grounded first on scientific knowledge of conception and DNA: "From the time the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already" (No. 12). Just think — each of us is the same person that was conceived. All that has been "added" is nourishment, time and hopefully a lot of love. We are the same person who was conceived, who was born, who matures, and who will someday leave this life for eternal life.

Secondly, we firmly believe that almighty God alone creates and gives each person an immortal soul. While during the course of Church history, theologians have debated exactly when God infuses the soul, the Church has always taken the safest moral course because of the sacredness of life. With the ability of medical science to identify the sperm and ovum and their functions, and to understand the process of conception and DNA, the safest moral position would be that God infuses the soul at conception. Moreover, "even if a doubt existed concerning whether the fruit of conception is already a human person, it is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder" (No. 13).

Therefore, the act and results of an abortifacient drug such as RU-486 are no different than a surgical abortion procedure in its morality. Even the Washington Post in its article "Abortion Drug Proposal Criticized" (June 7, 2000) unequivocally stated, "Mifepristone is designed for women up to 49 days pregnant. It causes an abortion by making it difficult for a fertilized egg to attach to the uterus; a second drug, Prostaglandin Misoprostol, triggers contractions." Everyone well knows this drug causes an abortion, and the victim is the unborn child.

The evil of RU-486 is particularly seductive. The drug seemingly amoralizes the act: No one has to undergo a surgical procedure with its various risks, even though with RU-486 the risks of bleeding and cardiac arrest are present. No one sees the results. No one has to really consult anyone about terminating a pregnancy; a woman simply can use this like any oral drug. No one even has to speak of an abortion — this is officially labeled a contraceptive. No one has to worry about conceiving a child; the pill takes care of everything. No physician has to have blood stained hands from the abortion procedure; he just has to write a prescription. However, the individual mother will always know and carry the burden alone.

Jesus said, "Everyone who practices evil hates the light; he does not come near it for fear his deeds will be exposed. But he who acts in truth comes into the light, to make clear that his deeds are done in God" (Jn 3:20-21). RU-486 lurks in the darkness of the culture of death.




Saunders, Rev. William. "RU-486: An Attempt to Hide the Truth." Arlington Catholic Herald.

This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.


Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Virginia. The above article is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.

Copyright © 2003 Arlington Catholic Herald

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