Row rages in Italy over abortion pill

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Regional governors from Italy's resurgent right-wing Northern League have begun flexing their political muscles by vowing to ban the abortion pill, just days after it was finally made available to Italian women.

Veneto's governor-elect, Luca Zaia, has declared that no hospital in his region will administer the RU486 pill. "It banalises the trauma of abortion, leaves women by themselves and makes young people less responsible," Mr Zaia said. "We want federalism for ethical matters, as well. For abortion and euthanasia, why should the state decide?" It followed a similar pledge by Piedmont's new Northern League governor Roberto Cota, who called for the pill to be left "to rot in the warehouse".

The comments, which were immediately attacked by opposition politicians, came as the first supplies of RU486 were dispatched to hospitals in Milan and Pisa – decades after other EU countries gave medical abortion the go-ahead.

The pill allows women to have a chemically induced abortion, instead of a surgical procedure, within the first seven weeks of pregnancy. In France, where it was developed, RU486 has been in use since 1988, but staunch resistance from the ever-influential Vatican had kept it out of Italy until now. However, whereas women in most other countries can take the medication at home, the Italian health ministry's technical advisory board ruled that the pill must be dispensed in hospital.

Mercedes Bresso, the former Piedmont governor for the opposition Democratic Party who was ousted in last weekend's elections, called on hospital directors to ignore her successor's demands. "The law must be respected," she said. "And women must be given the opportunity of taking the RU486 pill when ... the health ministry, and even [Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's] People of Freedom party have given their permission."

But the Vatican yesterday praised the Northern League's move. Renato Fisichella, the Holy See's top bio-ethics official, said he was "in defence of life and therefore it has my praise".