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August 1, 2009

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Abortion pill: Italy defies church

ITALY'S drug regulation agency has authorized the use of the abortion pill despite protests from the Roman Catholic church which threatens to excommunicate doctors who prescribe the drug and patients who use it.

The Italian Pharmaceuticals Agency announced its decision late on Thursday after a long meeting during which it was lobbied intensely by the church and Catholic politicians, including many from Silvio Berlusconi's government.

Since 1978 abortion has been legal in Italy on demand in the first 90 days of pregnancy and until the 24th week if the life of the mother is at risk or the fetus is malformed.

Developed in the early 1980s in France, mifepristone or RU-486 is approved as a prescription drug in the US and almost all the European Union except some Catholic countries like Portugal, Ireland and Italy.

Its supporters in Italy say there is no contradiction with current Italian law. "If a woman can't be convinced to avoid an abortion, we should accept a less invasive and painful method," Youth Minister Giorgia Meloni said.

The Vatican, which opposes all forms of abortion, says the pill is no different from surgical abortion. "There will be excommunication for the doctor, the woman and anyone who encourages its use," said Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, emeritus president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the pope's top expert on bioethical issues.


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