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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — A controversial drug used to help induce abortions will soon be distributed across Italy.

Italy was one of the last countries in Europe to approve the use of RU-486, known generically as Mifepristone and by various brand names around the world. It’s been available in most countries in Europe since the late 1990s.

RU-486 will only be prescribed in Italian hospitals during the first seven weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, according to an article by the Adnkronos news agency. The woman must remain hospitalized for observation after taking the medication.

Initial approval of RU-486 was granted in July, but a recent decision to start distributing it to hospitals caused an uproar.

Numerous media reports in recent weeks have carried vows by Roberto Cota and Luca Zaia — the newly elected governors of the Piedmont and Veneto regions — to block distribution of the drug. Vicenza is among the cities in Zaia’s jurisdiction.

Each received some backing from the Roman Catholic Church, which adamantly opposes the use of the drug. In fact, the church threatened last year to excommunicate doctors who prescribed the drug as well as patients who used it.

Both politicians have since backed off somewhat, and critics expressed doubts they had the authority to block the distribution.

A survey of Italian hospitals near U.S. military communities around the country found that all plan to have RU-486 in stock soon. But details — such as whether foreigners would be allowed to use the drug — were still being worked out, according to hospital officials, who all declined to be identified.

Abortion for women pregnant up to 90 days has been legal in Italy since 1978, but Italian doctors can refuse to perform the operations if they’re morally opposed. The Italian health ministry estimates that 70 percent do refuse, according to Adnkronos. Doctors will be given the same rights with RU-486.

So some hospital sources contacted said though they’re required to stock the drug, it might not be dispensed. It’s possible that some doctors who have refused to perform surgical abortions will decide to prescribe RU-486, but that has not been determined.

U.S. military medical facilities don’t carry the drug, though it has been legal in the U.S. since 2000. The U.S. has had a ban in place since 1996 prohibiting the military from performing abortions or paying for them unless the woman’s life is in danger. Women who choose to have abortions off base can do so as long as they obey local laws and pay for it themselves.

The drug is available in all European countries hosting major U.S. military communities. It has been available in the United Kingdom since 1991. Germany, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands are among the countries that granted approval in 1999.

The Obama administration directed all military medical facilities to stock Plan B, commonly referred to as the “morning after pill,” in February. Many had already carried it.

Plan B is designed to prevent pregnancy and must be taken within 72 hours after sex. RU-486 is designed to help end a pregnancy. Most countries require doctors to prescribe the drug, monitor the process and watch for potential complications.

A hospital in Bari became the first in Italy to administer the RU-486 last week, according to reports from the ANSA and Adnkronos wire services.

Valentina Lehman provided translation for this report.

harrisk@estripes.osd.mil

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