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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 May, 2003, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Argentine contraceptive ban 'absurd'
The Argentine health minister has attacked as "absurd" and potentially catastrophic a judicial ruling banning certain contraceptives across Argentina.

Woman takes pill
Many women rely on the pill in Argentina, where abortion is illegal
Gines Gonzalez Garcia vowed to take every step to reverse the judgement, saying it went against international norms.

The judge in question, Cristina Garzon de Lascano of Cordoba province, on Thursday ruled in favour of a conservative Catholic organisation which argued that oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices (IUD) violated women's health rights.

The judge agreed that such contraceptives were "abortive" and banned their production and sale. She also ordered the destruction of existing supplies.

Abortion is illegal in Argentina and can be punishable by prison.

'Religious fundamentalists'

But Dr Gonzalez Garcia said the contraceptives in question - also known as the pill and the coil - "are used by 2,500,000 Argentine women, and to take away such medication would be a health catastrophe".

The judgement was "absurd and based on the plea of religious fundamentalists, without consulting a single medical academic at the Health Ministry", he was quoted as saying by the Argentine newspaper Clarin.

Women's and health organisations also condemned the ruling.

Some said it would increase the number of clandestine abortions carried out in Argentina - already the country's primary cause of maternal death.

Controversial judge

Judge Garzon de Lascano has made similarly controversial rulings before, according to Clarin.

In 2001, she banned the so-called "morning-after pill" - taken within 72 of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy - after a presentation by another conservative Catholic group.

In February this year she ruled against the application of reproductive health laws in Cordoba province - but her ruling, described as "arbitrary and illegitimate", was overturned by the federal chamber.

A law passed earlier this year allowed the free distribution of contraceptives in Argentina.

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