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From Roe vs. Wade to abortion pill, issues remain the same
(CNN) -- Before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided to approve the nonsurgical abortion drug mifepristone -- called the abortion pill -- for marketing in the United States on Thursday, both supporters and opponents said the debate may be changing, but the stakes are the same.
"The reality is that we're still dealing with the death of a baby," says Olivia Gans of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), an anti-abortion public policy group with headquarters in Washington. "The how, when or where of how that child dies doesn't really alter the nature of the debate. A baby is still dying."
But Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood, an international family planning organization, says past victories for anti-abortion groups "have come from intimidation." Before the decision, Feldt said the makers of the drug mifepristone, known as RU-486 in Europe, getting federal permission to market the drug in the United States would mean "it will be much more difficult to intimidate a greater number of providers spread across a larger geography."
But that's precisely what Randall Terry, the founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, aims to do: single out any doctor who prescribes the pills.
"We will expose him to the community so he'll no longer be known as a mom-and-pop doctor," Terry said. "He is going be known as a baby killer."
Many disagree with court
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, ruling that the constitutional right to privacy "is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy."
But many people disagree with the court, and they have constantly protested against what they call "the abortion industry," urging state and federal legislation to limit the availability of abortions.
Stopping women as they attempted to enter abortion clinics was one of many tactics activists have taken over the years, and protests outside businesses where abortions were available created what Planned Parenthood decried as a "gantlet of harassment."
But it was violence against clinics and abortion providers -- seven killed in shootings or bombings in the 1990s -- that led many doctors to stop offering abortions.
In June 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that laws intended to protect patients and staff from aggressive harassment outside abortion clinics were constitutional.
An observer who has documented the conflict over abortion believes the ability to market and prescribe the so-called abortion pill in the United States is a tremendous blow to anti-abortion groups.
"It's a real question for the right-to-life movement, as to whether this is going to take abortion out of clinic and put it out into the generalized medical community," said Cynthia Gorney, author of "Articles of Faith; A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars," a 1999 narrative history of the modern American abortion conflict.
'The debate doesn't change'
Marketing of the drug means women will be able to terminate a pregnancy in the privacy of their own homes with a drug prescribed by their doctor, and at an earlier stage than surgical abortions.
"A greater number of physicians will provide mifepristone than currently provide women to surgical abortion procedures," said Feldt of Planned Parenthood.
Mifepristone is the medical name of the drug under debate-- and is taken with misoprostol, which is approved in the United States for treatment of ulcers.
But for the NRLC, the battleground may be just shifting. "Perseverance means realizing this battle may not be over tomorrow, and we may face new challenges," said Gans. "But the debate doesn't change, and the gravity doesn't change, and the urgency remains."
CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman and CNN.com Writer Jonathan D. Austin contributed to this story.
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