Berlusconi Government blocks Vatican-opposed RU486 abortion pill

The centre-right government of Silvio Berlusconi has blocked availability in Italy of the RU486 abortion pill, which is vehemently opposed by the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

RU486, or mifepristone, has been approved by AIFA, the Italian pharmaceutical authority, for use in hospitals under medical supervision as an alternative to surgical abortion up to the 49th day of pregnancy. It was first introduced in France in 1988 and is now used widely in Europe, though not in predominantly Catholic countries such as Portugal, Ireland and Poland.

However the Senate health commission suspended its use and asked the Health Ministry for “a second opinion” on the grounds that the pill could endanger women’s health or violate Italy’s anti-abortion laws.

The pill, which suppresses a hormone called progesterone, causing the uterine lining to reject an implanted embryo, allows a woman to have a chemically induced abortion instead of surgical procedure. It is regarded by the Church as “back door abortion” and was condemned by the Vatican in a document last year on bio-ethics, together with artificial fertilisation, human cloning, “designer babies” and embryonic stem-cell research.

Abortion in the first 90 days of pregnancy was legalised in Italy in 1978. However Maurizio Sacconi, the Welfare and Health Minister, said that ”Italy’s abortion laws were not conceived with a pharmaceutical solution in mind”.

Anna Finocchiaro, leader in the Senate of the opposition centre Left Democratic Party, said the Berlusconi government’s real aim was to ban the pill altogether. “Instead of admitting what they really want, they’re hiding behind a lot of chatter”, she said.

Felice Belisario, head of the centre-left Italy of Values party in the Senate, said that the move was an “absolutely indecent blow to women’s rights”. It was “a step backward compared to more evolved countries. For the centre right, science stopped a hundred years ago”.

The Italian consumer group Aduc said that the pill had been in use for over twenty years in France and eight years in the United States ”without any problem”. Mr Berlusconi has come under fire from the Catholic Church over his “immoral” private life, but has assured the Vatican that his Government wll pass laws that take into account Catholic views on bio-ethical issues from abortion to euthanasia.

According to the Italian Health Ministry, 70 per cent of Italian doctors are “conscientious objectors” who exercise their right under the law to refuse to carry out abortions.


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