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Monday, December 21, 1998 Published at 17:35 GMT

World: Europe

Growing row over German abortion pill

The pill causes a termination within the first 49 days of pregnancy

The Roman Catholic Church in Germany is stepping up its attacks on government plans to allow the sale of an abortion pill.

Senior Bishop Karl Lehmann told German radio that aborting with a pill was an illegal act of killing which violated the constitution and the law.

"Playing down abortion by portraying this drug as a more gentle method is unacceptable," said Bishop Lehmann, who is head of the German bishops' conference. "It remains an illegal killing."

The Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meissner has already made an apparent comparison between taking the pill and the use of gas in the Holocaust.

The new Social Democrat-led government has licensed the drug for sale next month. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said he welcomed giving women an alternative to surgical abortion.

The Minister for Women's Affairs, Christine Bergmann, rejected calls for talks with the church. "I really don't know what there is to talk about," she said on Monday.

Controverial history

The RU-486 abortion pill has always been controversial. It was introduced in France a decade ago but since then Sweden and Britain are the only European countries to have allowed its sale.

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

Abortions are permitted in Germany during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy but they remain a sensitive issue because of the country's vocal Roman Catholic population.

A woman seeking termination has to attend a counselling centre, often staffed by members of the Catholic church, before getting permission to go ahead with the operation.

New government opens new doors

The last German government, led by Helmut Kohl, consistently withheld support for marketing the abortion pill in Germany.

Now the new centre-left German government is indicating it will not block the licensing of the pill, enabling its prescription in Germany for the first time.

Despite pressure from the church, the manufacturer of the abortion pill says he will not be deterred.

Edouard Sakiz now intends applying to the European Union next month for approval to market the pill in Germany.

He produces the drug with a small company in France whose name he keeps secret, fearing reprisals from abortion opponents.

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