Italy okays abortion pill Italy's pharmaceutical agency AIFA has approved the so-called abortion pill despite fierce opposition from the Vatican and conservative politicians. AIFA rules that the RU486 pill - not to be confused with the morning after pill that has been in use in Italy since 2000 - can be taken by women up until the 49th day of pregnancy under medical supervision in hospital, offering an alternative to surgical abortion. Ahead of the decision on Thursday evening, the Vatican warned that women who take the pill and doctors who prescribe it would be automatically excommunicated. Pontifical Academy of Life President Emeritus Msgr Giulio Sgreccia said the pill ''isn't a drug but a lethal poison'' that also threatens the lives of the women, pointing to 29 cases worldwide in which the drug has been linked to deaths. Msgr Screccia said that since taking the pill was the same as having a surgical abortion, it constituted a ''crime and a sin in a moral and juridical sense'' that led to automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church. The government said it would assess the agency's decision. Welfare Undersecretary Eugenia Roccella expressed concern about the safety risks for women taking the pill and called on AIFA to clarify the situation. Roccella said she was concerned the green light for the pill could lead to ''legalised clandestinity'' with women aborting at home since the exact moment of the abortion after taking the bill cannot be predicted. Luca Volonte' of the Catholic centrist UDC party said the move signalled the beginning of a ''dance of death with pharmaceutical multinationals'', adding that making the pill available ''as if it were aspirin'' violated Italy's strict abortion laws. But AIFA's decision was hailed by many women and doctors. ''Finally! It's above all a victory for Italian women, who from today have more choice,'' said Silvio Viale, a gynecologist and member of the Radical Party. Silvana Mura of the opposition Italy of Values party hailed AIFA's decision as offering women a ''much less invasive'' means of terminating a pregnancy than the surgical method. Margherita Boniver of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party called for an end to polemics, underlining that the pill was not going to be sold over the counter but would be administered in hospital. ABORTION RATE DROPPING. RU486, or mifepristone, was first introduced in France in 1988 and is now used in most European countries including Greece, Spain, Belgium and the United Kingdom. In Italy the pill will still have to be administered within the terms of the Italian abortion law, which came into effect in 1978 and allows abortions until the 90th day of pregnancy. After this point, terminations may be carried out only if the mother's health is at risk or the foetus is deformed. The rate of abortions in Italy has been falling over recent years and is one of the lowest in the West. According to health ministry figures released on Wednesday, there were 121,406 abortions in 2008, a drop of 4.1% on 2007, and a decrease of 48.3% on 1982 when the highest number of cases, 234,801, was recorded. An estimated 15,000 illegal abortions are also carried out each year. Pro-choice activists have complained that a growing number of pro-life medical practitioners is making it tougher for women to obtain abortions. Under Italian law, doctors can refuse to perform an abortion if it runs counter to their principles. Recent health ministry figures suggest that 70% of all Italian gynaecologists are now 'conscientious objectors' compared to 58.7% in 2003 while 50.4% of anaesthetists are opposed to abortion, compared to 45.7% in 2003.