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Vatican hits out at controversial abortion pill

Published on 15/12/2008

ROME - The Vatican hit out Sunday at plans to make a controversial abortion pill available in Italian hospitals within days.

"Abortion means to take the life of an innocent person, as from the first moment of an embryo’s existence it is a human with its own rights," Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the Vatican’s health spokesman, told ANSA news agency.

Italy’s pharmaceutical watchdog approved the use of the RU486 pill in February 2008 and is set to meet next week to finalise its entry onto the Italian market.

The pill’s manufacturers, Exelgyn Laboratories of France, say it can terminate pregnancies of up to seven weeks.

In 2005, experimental use of RU486 in three Italian hospitals provoked an outcry from Roman Catholic and conservative groups.

Italy’s Minister of Youth Giorgia Meloni warned that RU486 posed some risks.

"Don’t think of the RU486 as a contraceptive pill as it isn’t one. It’s a pregnancy which has already started, a drug which poses serious risks to women that take it. Each new way to end life is not a victory for anyone," the minister said.

The RU486 will only be available in hospitals in Italy. It is already approved for use in a number of European Union countries.

Abortion was legalised in 1978 in Italy but pressure from the Vatican – which is strongly opposed to abortion – enabled doctors to claim a "conscientious objection" clause and refuse to carry out terminations.

Between 2003 and 2007 the number of gynecologists claiming the conscience clause to avoid carrying out abortions rose from 58.7 percent to 69.2 percent, according to a recent report.