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CONTRACEPTIVE R&D INTERFERENCE BY ANTI-ABORTION ADVOCATES

Executive Summary

CONTRACEPTIVE R&D INTERFERENCE BY ANTI-ABORTION ADVOCATES could harm many "legitimate" studies and make it more likely the U.S. will be "decades behind" in these fields, House Energy and Commerce/Health Subcommittee Chairman Waxman (D-Calif.) said at an April 25 subcommittee hearing on bills to provide research funding. Waxman expressed two concerns: whether it is appropriate to bar research that could cross over into the abortion area; and, if such a restriction were accepted, whether legislative language can be devised that would bar only abortion-related research rather than all research on a technology that could be used for abortion. "I don't think we ought to be bullied into saying some research just can't be pursued because some groups are going to find it offensive when it's legitimate, proper research," Waxman declared. "We're going to be decades behind on this problem if we just circumscribe what researchers are allowed to look at." Further, Waxman asserted, "I don't think we ought to just be given the expectation that we have to go only to what is noncontroversial, because I think we've got to take on some of these issues head on...what's do-able may not be enough." The hearing focused on two proposals: Reps. Patricia Schroeder's (D-Colo.) and Olympia Snowe's (R-Maine) HR 4583, and Rep. Thomas Tauke's (R-Iowa) HR 4169. The Schroeder/Snowe bill would fund research in both infertility and contraception. The measure was modified to use the term "contraception" in place of the earlier "birth control" because the latter phrase was viewed as being less restrictive and more likely to raise objections from anti-abortion groups. HR 4583 would authorize funding the National Institutes of Health with up to $20 mil. each year in FY 1991 and 1992, and between $12 mil. and $13 mil. in each of the next three years. The bill would direct that the funds be used for three contraceptive research centers and two infertility centers. Tauke's bill funds contraceptive research only. Further, it expressly states that contraception includes "methods which act to prevent fertilization or to prevent the implantation of the fertilized human ovum, blastocyst or embryo in the uterus, but does not include any drug, device or method which has as one of its known effects, the termination of pregnancy after implantation of the fertilized human ovum, blastocyst or embryo in the uterus; and the [NIH child health] institute may not support research on any such drug, device or method." Rep. Tauke, a member of the subcommittee, commented that "we should be able move legislation through the process without too much controversy this year." He said that "there should be no difficulty if we are focusing on preventing conception before...implantation. If we get into the area of the RU 486 pill, then I suspect we're going to have controversy." The Iowa congressman's bill would fund four contraceptive research centers. The congressman said he is interested in permitting infertility research under his bill, but will evaluate the issue further before doing so. HR 4169 would provide $25 mil. in 1991 and such sums as necessary for the following four years. During the hearing, Waxman asked National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Director Duane Alexander about the effect on research if work could not be done on any technology whose effects include being an abortifacient. While declining to address the two House bills specifically, Alexander replied: "Restrictions on research on any drug that has as one of its actions interference with continuance of pregnancy could have significant repercussions." Few drugs have only one effect, he pointed out. For example, Alexander noted, many chemotherapies are anti-metabolites that can result in abortion. On the other hand, RU 486 is not only an abortifacient, but has applications for Cushings disease, which stems from pituitary dysfunction, and breast cancer. Asked where NICHHD would target any additional funds, Alexander said the institute would "accelerate clinical trials" of technologies under development. "Highest priority" would be given to implantable and injectable contraceptives, which hold particular potential for hard to reach groups of women likely to have high-risk pregnancies. Next would be immunocontraceptives and spermicides, especially because the latter may help prevent sexually-transmitted diseases.
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