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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006, 11:49 GMT
Australia in abortion pill vote
The pill is already available in several countries
Australia's Senate has voted to take control of a controversial abortion pill away from the government.

The current system means the RU486 pill is effectively banned in Australia.

Under proposed legislation, which now passes to the House of Representatives, the state medical regulatory body would decide when the pill can be used.

Proponents believe that body, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, will follow the lead of other regulatory bodies around the world and allow it.

The TGA approves or denies the use of all other drugs in Australia, but Parliament voted in 1996 to transfer the power of approval for RU-486 to the health minister.

The present minister, Tony Abbot, is a Catholic strongly opposed to abortion.

The Senate, or upper house, passed the legislation by 45 votes to 28.

Supporters of the drug argue that it is a cheaper and less invasive method of abortion than surgery.

But critics of the drug, which is already in use in 35 countries to terminate a pregnancy of up to 49 days, say it is unsafe and an elected official should be in charge of it.

The new legislation provoked fierce debate.

Lyn Allison, leader of the minority Australian Democrats, told the Senate she wanted RU486 to be available because she knew what it was like to experience a surgical abortion.

"An estimated one in three women have had an abortion, and I am one of those," she told parliament.

"It is galling listening to the men - and it is mostly men - who have such contempt for women who terminate unwanted pregnancies, who have neither the compassion nor the understanding of the huge and, for many, daunting task of taking an embryo the size of a grain of rice to adulthood."

But Finance Minister Nick Minchin said he could not support the drug after his own experience with abortion.

"I bring to this debate personal experience in that a former girlfriend of mine had an abortion when we were in a monogamous relationship," he told parliament.

"I cannot divorce that experience in my life from this consideration."

No date has been set for the House of Representatives vote, which is expected to be much closer, following Prime Minister John Howard's opposition.

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