Not a Panacea

Barbara Seaman's "New Pill, Old Problems" (November 13) is refreshing. All too many reports on RU-486 have claimed it to be a panacea. But she did miss the forest for the trees.

There is no doubt that mifepristone is a welcome addition for the nation's abortion practitioners like myself. Anything that adds to choice adds to women's freedom. However, there are several considerations that should be drawn from the clamor.

First, those of us in the abortion trade wonder if this is a step forward at all. Mifeprex requires an added pill (misoprostol), at least two doctor consultations, plus the post-abortal visit. The patient also must return home for several days to judge the quality of her hemorrhaging and cramping. Compare that to the present setup where a woman can come in over her lunch hour, accept either a local or brief general anesthesia, have a two- or three-minute procedure, and return to her activities that day or the next morning--all at half the cost of RU-486.

Second, RU-486 must not take away from all that has been accomplished. Since Roe v. Wade, more than a million terminations are performed yearly with the smallest complication rate for any minor surgery in history, one of medicine's proudest moments. To feel the choice movement must continually fix something that isn't broken falls into the trap of the anti-choicers.

Third, and most important, France and the other countries where mifepristone is available also have universal health care, something America shamefully lacks. It is only a matter of time before the abortion pill becomes accessible to the millions of women in the United States without such coverage, and they will be left to their own wiles in times of medical emergency or worse. For many women abortion-denial is a microcosm of the lack of affordable health care in America. That is the message of RU-486.

Don Sloan, M.D.
New York


David Brower 1912-2000

David Brower died on November 5 at his home in Berkeley, California, a few blocks away from the house where he was born in 1912. That alone says a lot about who Brower was. He was a Westerner, and something of a homebody. His life was rooted in place.

But Brower's vision was vast and encompassing. Although he was one of the world's most accomplished mountain climbers (with 70 first ascents and a trek into the Himalayas while he was in his seventies), he was one of first to get beyond the notion of wilderness as merely an aesthetic landscape of alpine scenery, rocks and ice. He connected the concept to ecosystems, those wild corridors of life, and fought relentlessly and fearlessly to save those big blank spaces on the maps.

His accomplishments are written on the landscape in the dozens of wilderness areas and national parks he helped create: Kings Canyon, North Cascades, Great Basin, Redwood, Point Reyes, Misty Fiords, Glacier Bay. He kept dams out of Dinosaur National Monument, the Yukon and the Grand Canyon. He battled nuclear power plants and was one of the first to view the military-industrial complex as a threat to the global environment.

The early conservation movement, led by the likes of John Muir and Aldo Leopold, was imbued with a stern, almost misanthropic demeanor. Brower humanized environmentalism. He knew that the war to preserve wilderness couldn't be waged by an elite cadre of mountain climbers and rich, white neo-transcendentalists. It would have to be a people's movement. And Brower, more than anyone else, shaped the modern environmental movement into a political force that reached across lines of class, race and gender.

"When they win, it's forever; when we win, it's merely a stay of execution. We've got to remain eternally vigilant." This was one of Brower's favorite maxims. No victory can be taken for granted. No inch of ground is forever safe. Yet for all the tragic battles and losses that Brower witnessed, he never became embittered. Brower had a Westerner's ingrained sense of optimism. He always maintained faith that a new generation would come along with energy and vision and determination to escalate the fight.

It's no coincidence that the last year of his life was one of his most productive. He helped create a new and promising coalition, the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment, an unlikely marriage of Earth First!ers and Steelworkers. Brower was in Seattle last November, siding with the street warriors, denouncing the cops, railing at the lords of international finance. He spoke with authority about the betrayals of the Clinton/Gore administration. Shortly before he died, he filled out his absentee ballot, voting for Ralph Nader and a slate of Green Party candidates in California.

I last saw Brower in March in Page, Arizona at a protest on the rim of Glen Canyon, overlooking that hated dam. Rightly or wrongly, Brower felt a measure of guilt for the dam's existence. To keep a dam out of Dinosaur National Monument, he had looked the other way when the Bureau of Reclamation planned this monstrosity. Then he floated down the Colorado and realized what a mystical place would be lost. "Don't trade a place you know for one you don't," he said.

That's good advice for any political warrior. But Brower learned his lesson and never stopped trying to right an old wrong. On that day, the old fire was in Brower's eyes as he looked out not on that wretched reservoir, but on the 500 Greens assembled on a weekday in one of the most remote parts of the Southwest. He looked to the future and a vibrant new movement that had staked its claim of resistance in the very belly of the beast. "Never let them beat you down as being doomsters or naysayers," Brower said. "Because if you are against a dam, you're for a river. It's time to let this river run free." [More about David Brower]

Jeffrey St. Clair




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