September 22, 2005

Minister halts Italy’s first abortion pill trial

By Shasta Darlington

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's health minister has halted the
country's first experiment with the abortion pill RU-486,
prompting accusations that the decision was politically
motivated and not scientific.

Two weeks after a hospital in the northern Italian city of
Turin began administering RU-486 to volunteer patients, Health
Minister Francesco Storace suspended the experiment on
Wednesday, citing health and legal reasons.

Doctors accused Storace of interference while politicians
from both the left and the right said the minister, who hails
from the conservative National Alliance party, was trying to
chip away at a 1978 law that legalized abortion.

"In the end, (the abortion law) is the target," said
Margherita Boniver, a top Foreign Ministry official and one of
the leading pro-choice advocates in Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi's centre-right coalition.

"The current government doesn't have enough time to change
the law but they are going to keep putting it to the test with
restrictions," she told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Storace said the experiment was suspended after inspectors
reported one of the 20 women who have taken the pill ended up
having a "partial expulsion" at home followed by bleeding.

The minister said the incident suggested the procedure was
illegal since under Italian law abortions must be carried out
at hospitals. He also said there could be health risks.

Hospital officials and the Italian gynecological
association said the research project, which had been approved
by the ministry, was proceeding normally and did not pose any
risk to the women involved.

Critics said Storace's decision was proof of the Roman
Catholic Church's influence on Italian politics.

The Church holds considerable sway in Italy and recently
scored a victory against lawmakers attempting to dismantle the
country's strict law on assisted fertility.

At that time, several government leaders, including
Storace, said it might be possible to review the abortion law
given the change in public opinion, but most analysts say it
would be political suicide ahead of general elections next

RU-486, also known as Mifeprex or mifepristone, is used for
terminating a pregnancy of up to 49 days. It has been used in a
number of countries since it was developed in France in the

The pill's maker, Danco Laboratories LLC, announced in July
that five women who had taken RU-486 had died from bacterial
infections since its introduction in America five years ago.

As a result, conservative U.S. lawmakers have called for
Congress to halt sales of the pill and for safety reviews.