May 23, 2006

Vatican daily rebukes Italy govt on abortion pill

By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) - The Vatican newspaper criticized on
Tuesday comments by Italy's health minister in favor of the
abortion pill, setting the tone for a drawn-out battle with the
new centre-left government over its proposed social policies.

L'Osservatore Romano called the RU-486 abortion pill a
weapon to carry out "carefree murder," speaking out for the
second time in as many days against two of Romano Prodi's women
ministers, less than a week after they were sworn in.

On Monday, the newspaper said a proposal by Family Minister
Rosy Bindi, a Catholic, to discuss some kind of legal
recognition for civil unions was "indefensible."

On Tuesday, it took issue with Health Minister Livia Turco,
who said she favored controlled trials of the abortion pill,
which is not available for general use in Italy, as a "safe and
alternative method" to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

The pill, also known as Mifepristone and currently in use
in about 30 countries, blocks the action of the hormone
progesterone, needed to sustain a pregnancy.

"The haste in which new ministers are lining up to assert
their intentions on particularly sensitive themes is
disconcerting," L'Osservatore said in an editorial.

"It's feminism we frankly did not feel the need for," it

Nearly 30 years since it was legalized in 1978 despite
fierce Vatican opposition, abortion remains a sensitive issue
in traditionally Roman Catholic Italy.

Turco's predecessor in Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right
government halted experiments with the RU-486 and recommended
the presence of pro-life activists in state-funded advisory
clinics to discourage abortion.

Pope Benedict has also spoken against the abortion pill, as
well as against any move to recognize civil partnership for
unwed heterosexual and gay couples.

The Church still holds considerable sway in Italy and last
year scored a victory against attempts to dismantle the
country's strict law on assisted fertility.

The center left has in the past accused the Vatican of
interfering in Italy's domestic affairs, but Prodi's broad
coalition, which stretches form Roman Catholic moderates to
communists, is far from united on abortion and civil unions.

The center right also condemned Turco's comments on

"What you eliminate with the RU-486 or a surgical abortion
is not a blood clot but a fully-formed baby," said Roberto
Calderoli of the far-right Northern League.

The center right and the Church are against any measure
that makes it easier for women to have an abortion.

Official data show that the number of abortions in Italy
has actually fallen over the past two decades, with 132,178
pregnancies terminated in 2003 compared with 235,000 in 1982.

The issue has taken on added relevance because of Italy's
low birth rate, with women of childbearing age having on
average just 1.3 children, one of the lowest fertility rates in
the world and down from 2.2 in 1975.