The Bush administration Friday notified states that the government will pay for low-income women to take the abortion pill RU-486 only under rare circumstances, applying the same restrictions that have been long imposed on federal coverage of surgical abortions.
In a letter to state directors of Medicaid, the public health insurance program for the poor and disabled, the Department of Health and Human Services said the government will pay for the recently approved drug, called mifepristone, to end pregnancies caused by rape or incest, or when the woman's life is in danger.
The one-page letter emphasized that states with restrictions on surgical abortions are free to apply them to the abortion pill.
These include parental notification laws and requirements that women first receive counseling on alternatives to abortion.
U.S. health officials delivered the ground rules at a time when administration officials are rethinking the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the drug for use in the United States in September.
Mifepristone, or Mifeprex, was first approved in France 12 years ago and began arriving on the U.S. market about two months ago. It is available mainly through clinics.
Picking up on arguments of abortion opponents, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said during his Senate confirmation hearing that he intended to explore whether mifepristone was safe. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card later said the FDA decision would be reviewed.