Targeting the abortion pill

I posted earlier this week about the pros and cons of medical abortion. And right on the heels of that discussion, the New York Times reports that Shanghai Hualian, the Chinese drug company that manufactures mifepristone pills (aka RU-486) used in the U.S., has been accused of producing tainted drugs. Now, to be clear, all tainted drugs have come from a different plant from the one where U.S.-bound mifepristone is made. But that didn’t stop the Times from writing the screaming headline:

Tainted Drugs Tied to Maker of Abortion Pill

Now, I absolutely agreed that the plants that do manufacture mifepristone — and any other drugs used in the U.S. — should be inspected immediately. Yes, I believe we need to verify the safety of this drug. But does anyone else find it suspicious that the FDA refused to disclose whether any other U.S. pharmaceuticals are produced by that company? That they only named mifepristone?

Last week, The New York Times asked the F.D.A. whether the Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group exported to the United States any drugs or pharmaceutical ingredients other than the abortion pill. But after repeated requests, the agency declined to provide that information; it did not cite a reason.
On at least two occasions in 2002, Shanghai Hualian had shipments of drugs stopped at the United States border, F.D.A. records show. One shipment was an unapproved antibiotic and the other a diuretic that had “false or misleading labeling.� Records also show that another unit of Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group has filed papers declaring its intention to sell at least five active pharmaceutical ingredients to manufacturers for sale in the United States.

So to summarize, mifepristone is very likely not the only U.S. drug that could be tainted. And yet the FDA is only talking about “the abortion pill”. What, I wonder, could be their political motivation? I’m really stumped by that one…
Another big aspect of this story is that we’re learning, for the first time, the name of the company that manufactures mifepristone.

Because of opposition from the anti-abortion movement, the F.D.A. has never publicly identified the maker of the abortion pill for the American market. The pill was first manufactured in France, and since its approval by the F.D.A. in 2000 it has been distributed in the United States by Danco Laboratories. Danco, which does not list a street address on its Web site, did not return two telephone calls seeking comment.

And this is where I get really, really upset at anti-choicers. I believe doctors and patients should have broad access to information about the drugs they prescribe/take, and the makers of those drugs. Because of the antis, that information about mifepristone has never been accessible.
That said, knowing how the antichoice movement works, I fully understand why this information has been kept under wraps until now. And the conspiracy theorist in me thinks that the FDA throwing the antichoicers a bone by leaking this information — issuing a not-so-subtle warning about mifepristone, without issuing the same warning about other drugs made by that same manufacturer. It’s bullshit.

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