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Fearless Prescription

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Steven DeCinzo

San Francisco physician distributes RU486 in the face of politically inspired ban

By Cecily Barnes

BERNARD GORE is a friendly Jewish ob-gyn with a big nose, round face and white lab coat. He's also the only doctor in the state of California with access to the controversial abortion pill, RU486. Gore's been able to prescribe the drug for nearly two years because he is participating in a small study sponsored by the Abortion Rights Mobilization Group. Every time the study wraps up, his supervisor, Dr. Eric Schaff, happens upon some other variable that must also be studied, and thus the participating doctors are able to continue distributing the drug.

As a participant, Gore receives a package of mifeprisone every week. Nobody knows where the lab that produces it is located. "Their identity is being withheld," Schaff says matter-of-factly. "So that they don't get bombed."

Suprisingly, Gore doesn't fear being a target of Right to Life groups. He says he's been providing abortions since before Roe v. Wade and the worst thing that's ever happened was having his tires slashed. But Gore gets visibly agitated when talking about the anti-abortion movement's success at keeping RU486 from women.

To counter this lack of access, Gore says, he'll treat women from Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz in his private office. When people call from Los Angeles and beyond, he'll treat them too, but only if they come and stay in San Francisco during the procedure.

"Our abortion protocol is that the person is supposed to be within two hours of the office," Gore says. "If someone is from out of town I tell them to come up for four days. Otherwise I keep it in the area."

Gore did his residency in a Chicago hospital in 1969. There, he says, he saw dozens of women who were dying from botched abortions pass through the emergency room. He performed his first abortion while serving as an Air Force physician at Hamilton Air Force Base in Marin County. Although it was not law of the land, he was able to offer abortions while on active duty in California, where abortion was legal.

Today Gore is still committed to the cause. Besides his private practice, he provides low-cost abortions, both medical and surgical, to women at Women's Choice clinic in Oakland. He says he'll continue to prescribe the drug as long as he's able.

"It's amazing how much controversy you can get from this little pill," he says, holding up the RU486 pinched between his fingers. "It just looks like an aspirin, doesn't it?"

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From the June 4-10, 1998 issue of Metro.

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