After much debate the sale of the RU486 abortion pill in Italy was given a final green light on Wednesday, despite protests from the Vatican and members of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government.
The Italian pharmaceutical authority AIFA had initially authorised the sale of RU486 on July 31, but was then asked by a Senate committee to rethink its decision in the face of objections in this predominantly Catholic nation.
It upheld its decision on December 2 -- and publication of that stance in the online edition of the Italian government's official journal on Wednesday cleared the way for its sale.
Unlike in other countries, however, RU486 -- an alternative to surgical abortion -- will only be administered in hospitals in Italy.
"The debate is not yet over," Senator Donatella Poretti told AFP. "From tomorrow, it has to be asked why Italian women (prescribed RU486) will be required to stay in hospital."
When AIFA initially approved the drug, deputy interior minister Alfredo Mantovano said its decision was tantamount to classifying it as just another drug for treating fever, rather than "an instrument for ending a life".
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, former head of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, went so far as to threaten "excommunication for the doctor, the woman and all those who push for the use" of RU486, which he called "a deadly poison".
Three months ago, during a conference in Rome, the French inventor of RU486, Etienne Baulieu, denounced the fact that Italy was "the only major country in Europe" where it was still not available.
Approved in France since 1988, RU486 -- also known as mifepristone -- is manufactured for Europe by French laboratory Exelgyn, which applied two years ago to put it on the Italian market.
It differs from the morning-after pill Norlevo, which has been available in Italy since 2000.