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The BBC's David Willey in Rome
"The Pope's deputy has suggested that chemists who are Catholics should refuse to sell the pill"
 real 28k

Thursday, 2 November, 2000, 12:15 GMT
Vatican in pill row
The Pope
The Vatican denounced the sale of RU486 as soon as it became available in Italy
Church and state are at loggerheads in Italy over the so-called morning after pill, which became available by prescription on Monday.

The Vatican immediately denounced the sale of the pill.

The pill, formally known as RU486, can induce abortion during the early stages of pregnancy without the need for surgery.

Cardinal Camilo Ruini, who represents the Pope for the diocese of Rome, suggested that Catholic chemists should refuse to sell the pill as conscientious objectors.

Under Italian law, Catholic doctors can refuse to perform abortions, which have been legal for more than 20 years.

The suggestion has not gone down well with Italian politicians, except those on the Catholic right.

Politicians perplexed

Health Minister Umberto Veronese said he was perplexed by the Vatican position because mechanical and chemical devices that function in the same way as RU486 have long been available in Italy.

RU486 pills
RU486 can induce abortion if taken within seven weeks of pregnacy
He said that since abortion became legal and information on birth control became widely available, the number of abortions in Italy has declined steadily.

The drug was first launched in France over a decade ago, and is currently available in many other European countries.

The pill was approved for sale by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October.

The drug is controversial because it causes an abortion if taken within the first 49 days of pregnancy.

Highly effective

There have also been some concerns over its side-effects, which include heavy bleeding and nausea.

RU486 is available in more than a dozen countries across the world, including Britain, and has been used by millions of women.

Studies have shown that the pill, which works by blocking a hormone needed to sustain pregnancy, is 95% effective.

The pill suppresses the body's production of a hormone called progesterone, causing the uterine lining to thin and reject an implanted embryo.

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See also:

29 Aug 00 | Health
'Abortion causes foetal pain'
19 May 00 | Health
Chemist morning-after pill closer
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