Da The Guardian del 16/11/2005
Originale su http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1643503,00.html

Row over pill may see pro-life activists in Italy's abortion clinics

Berlusconi moves to woo conservative Catholics.
Vatican intervenes over easy access to termination.

di John Hooper

Rome - Silvio Berlusconi's government is considering putting pro-life activists into state-funded abortion advice centres to discourage women from terminating their pregnancies.

The move follows a furious dispute over the growing use in Italy of the abortion pill, Mifepristone, which pro-life campaigners fear makes termination of pregnancies easier.

At the Vatican, the pope's chief adviser on health, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, told the Guardian yesterday: "An abortion, small or great, is homicide all the same." His remark was the latest in a string of condemnations by senior church officials of the pill, also known as RU-486. The Vatican's daily, L'Osservatore Romano, said last month the pill was an example of "science in the service of death" and the Archbishop of Genoa, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, has drawn a comparison between the use of the pill and King Herod's massacre of the innocents.

Italy's health minister, Francesco Storace, of the formerly neo-fascist National Alliance, who has tried to stem the use of the pill, said he was planning a shake-up of the advice centres created under Italy's abortion law to make sure they included Roman Catholic volunteers from the Movement for Life group. He said the 1978 law was passed "not just to legalise abortion but to prevent it".

Mifepristone can be used in the termination of pregnancies up to 64 days after conception. It was discovered in France in 1980 and has since been licensed for use in France, Britain, the US and other countries. It has not been specifically approved in Italy. But under a 1997 law, Italian health authorities can buy from abroad drugs licensed in other EU countries. A hospital in Turin began testing Mifepristone in September, but two weeks later Mr Storace halted the experiment saying he wanted to safeguard the health of the women involved.

The tests resumed earlier this month after the hospital agreed to keep women in hospital for at least two days while they were taking the pill and its accompaniment, Misoprostol. Since then, health authorities in at least four regions have made the treatment available much to the annoyance of Mr Storace, who yesterday accused them of coming together in a "movement for the overturning of principles". On Monday, the head of the Italian bishops' conference, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, said the abortion pill was a way of disguising "the suppression of an innocent human life".

Pro-choice campaigners have been fearing an assault by the church on Italy's legislation since last year, when a cross-party majority of MPs brought in a law on assisted fertilisation that gave embryos full rights from the point of conception. That appeared to be at odds with Italy's abortion act, which allows for termination in the first three months of pregnancy.

With a general election less than five months away, there are also signs Mr Berlusconi's government is out to woo the Catholic vote. The 2006 budget, currently making its way through parliament, frees the Catholic church and other denominations from the need to pay local authority rates.

The abortion row in Italy mirrors one in Australia, where the government is considering whether or not to lift a ban on Mifepristone imposed by the Labour government in the 1990s. One state, Victoria, has ordered mandatory counselling for women having late-term abortions.

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