When the Italian drug agency approved the sale of the deadly abortion drug RU 486 late Thursday night, senior Vatican officials responded strongly saying that doctors who prescribe it and the women who take it risk excommunication. The Italian Pharmaceuticals Agency (AIFA) said the drug, to be sold under the brand name Mifegyne, would not be sold in pharmacies and only be administered by physicians in hospitals.
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, a bioethics professor, author and former vice-president of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) told Corriere della Sera newspaper, "This is a compound which kills the foetus and one much promoted by the pharmaceutical industry. It is an incitement to abort. It is absolutely unacceptable and leads to automatic excommunication."
He added, "First abortion was legalised to stop it being clandestine, but now doctors are washing their hands of it and transferring the burden of conscience to women."
The current head of the PAV, Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella said, "An embryo is not a bunch of cells. It is a real and full human life and to suppress it is a responsibility no one can take without fully realising the consequences."
Fisichella, however, refused to state outright that these "consequences" include automatic excommunication. In an interview with Corriere della Sera, he said, "It is obvious that the canonical consequences are the same as for surgical abortion, this is known. But I do not want to make a declaration." Asked why not, he added that such a declaration would be "too easy".
In an article in Saturday’s Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano, Fisichella wrote that the drug will "lead to a trivialization of the concept of life." The drug is "an evil in and of itself because it takes a human life. This life, which is only visible through the assistance of technology, possesses the same dignity inherent in every person."
The vote of the AIFA board of directors in favour of the drug, after a reportedly heated four-hour debate, was four to one. Romano Colozzi, the dissenting member, warned, "The apparent ease of this pharmacological method will inevitably lower the level of caution and responsibility."
Some legislators in the government of Silvio Berlusconi had also opposed the decision. Citing the statistics from the Italian health agency showing at least 29 maternal deaths associated with the drug, Eugenia Roccella, the subsecretary of the health office, indicated reservations about the decision. She told media that despite their decision, an "interchange of opinions" would continue between AIFA and the health ministry.
Gianni Alemanno, the mayor of Rome said, "Infanticide is, in fact, being legalised for the modest sum of €14 a tablet."
Abortion on demand up to the end of the third month of pregnancy has been legal in Italy since 1978. It is estimated, however, that the nearly 70 per cent of doctors in Italy who are conscientious objectors to abortion will not prescribe the drug.
Italy was one of the last EU countries to resist legalising the deadly drug that is the subject of massive class action law suits in the US. Developed in France, RU-486 or mifepristone is approved as a prescription drug in the US and througout the European Union except, as of Friday, in Ireland and Portugal.
The prevalence of RU 486 in the abortion industry is growing worldwide. In 2007, figures released for England and Wales revealed that 43 per cent of early abortions were the result of RU 486, called "medical" abortion in much of the medical literature.