National Review Interviews Professor Robert George on RU-486

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. National Review interviewed him on September 28, 2000, the day that the U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) announced its approval of RU-486, the so-called abortion pill.

NR: Are you surprised RU-486 was approved without any reservations?

RPG: No. The ideological hegemony of what the late Robert Casey called "the cult of the imperial self" in elite sectors of the culture has consequences. The approval of RU-486 is one of them. In the perspective of the bureaucrats and Clinton administration operatives responsible for this decision, the availability of more effective techniques of feticide is an unalloyed good. All they see is that such techniques enable women—and men—to lead the lives (especially the sex lives) they prefer without the inconvenience of "unwanted" children. In the social and professional circles in which these people travel, they expect—and will receive—congratulations for serving the cause of "enlightenment." The only concern FDA officials and the Clinton Administration ever had about RU-486 was how to get its approval past a less than uniformly "enlightened" public without major political consequences. Their strategy was, as it has been so often for those in the pro-abortion vanguard, to "spin" the issue as one having to do with "women’s health." Of course, elective abortion—by definition—does not promote anybody’s health, save the financial health of the abortion industry. Pregnancy is not a disease. And abortion—chemical or surgical—is anything but a "cure." The goal of an abortion is the death of the developing human being. Abortion is always, as the "pro-choice" philosopher Ronald Dworkin candidly admits, "a choice for death." RU-486 is simply a chemical method of killing—the Zyklon B of the abortion industry.

NR: What does it mean now that an abortion pill is available in the US?

RPG: Its meaning is unclear in important respects. No one knows whether American women, even those willing to undergo abortions, will in large numbers accept chemical abortifacients. One also suspects that trial lawyers, for all their devotion to the Democratic Party, will be watching closely for damaging side effects of RU-486 that will provide grounds for lawsuits. If I know the disposition of the trial bar, greed will trump ideology. Of course, FDA officials want to downplay possible side effects. But my guess is that opportunities to sue will present themselves in due course.

Of course, the abortion lobby hopes that the approval of RU-486 will mean that lots of physicians who haven’t wanted to have anything to do with the ghoulish business of abortion will now get into the trade. And it’s true that chemical abortifacients can provide a kind of psychological "distancing" of the physician from the killing he performs by administering the drugs. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we do in fact find that more physicians are willing to get involved in abortion. Perhaps it won’t be as many, though, as the abortion lobby hopes.

The abortion lobby also claims that the availability of RU-486 will give women a sense of "empowerment." In this they are merely deceiving themselves. We know that surgical abortion leaves tens of thousands of women feeling isolated in a grief that cannot be lightened by being shared. At some level, even women who buy into "pro-choice" ideology know that by opting for abortion they are choosing to kill their own son or daughter. The effect of RU-486, precisely because it will involve women being "sent home to have a miscarriage," will be to leave aborted women feeling even more isolated, alone, ashamed, guilty, and depressed. This, by the way, makes it all the more urgent for pro-life people to reach out to aborted women—truly abortion’s "secondary victims"—with a love that transforms their hearts, brings healing to their spirits, and enables them to seek forgiveness and forgive themselves. It goes without saying that such love is not on offer at the Planned Parenthood clinic.

NR: Is there something about this—as people learn about it—that will turn people off? Does the reality of how it works make it different enough to have an impact, turn people off to it? Could this be taking privacy too far?

RPG: Again, no one can say for sure; but I certainly won’t be surprised if American women, even those prepared to undergo abortions, do not warm to the idea of being sent away to have a miscarriage in the "privacy" of their own homes. Many women waiting at home for the child growing within them to die and be evacuated from their bodies are going to feel an isolation that simply can’t be comforted by the "support" of a boyfriend, parents, friends, or counselors. Ironic, isn’t it, that the liberals responsible for approving RU-486 are patting themselves on the back for doing women a big favor. Some "favor."

NR: Is the approval of mifepristone a defeat for the pro-life movement?

RPG: Yes. The pro-life movement—rightly—tried to prevent its approval. We fought hard and well. But in the end we failed. Our failure illustrates the difficulty of winning political battles in the face of left-liberal domination of the institutions of elite culture. Does that mean we should give up, or even cut back, our efforts in the political sphere? Let me say this as emphatically as I can: No! An effective political strategy is itself a key element in the struggle to build a "culture of life." We must not become demoralized. We must redouble our efforts.

NR: Is there legal recourse? Legally, is this different from surgical abortion?

RPG: As the current Supreme Court views things, I don’t think there is any difference between chemically induced and surgical abortions. At least five of the nine justices treat abortion up to the very point of birth as somehow protected by the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of due process. It is unlikely to matter to David Souter or even Sandra O’Connor that fetal death is induced by chemicals as opposed to dismemberment. As I said earlier, though, the trial lawyers will look for opportunities presented by side effects of RU-486 in tort law. Their behavior will be interesting to observe.


NR: Do you think this has an effect on the election?

RPG: I don’t think so. Governor Bush will certainly criticize the FDA decision, but he is unlikely to make a big issue of it. His strategy seems to be to stay away from moral issues as much as possible because he wants to "unite" and such issues "divide." We’ll see whether that proves to be a prudent way of conducting the campaign. I don’t pretend to be a political consultant.

I hope that, if elected, Governor Bush will act immediately to review this decision and get it reversed. It is worth recalling that one of Bill Clinton’s first acts as President, on the very anniversary of Roe v. Wade when thousands of pro-life citizens were marching in Washington, was to issue several executive orders reversing the pro-life orders of President Bush. This was symbolically very important. I hope that President Bush’s very first act will be to reverse the Clinton administration’s pro-abortion policies—starting with this one.