The Ru486 (mifepristone) pill will be available for an 18-month trial period starting this summer, regional health authorities announced on Wednesday.
The move is the latest effort from regional authorities to make abortion more accessible in a country where on average, 70 percent of doctors refuse to carry out the procedure. Last month, Lazio came under fire for the planned hire of two abortion doctors at one of the city's largest hospitals.
“The aim is to make access to the Law 194 [which regulates abortion] less burdensome for women,” Vincenzo Panella, general director of Lazio's Department for Health and Social Policy, told La Repubblica.
Medical abortion is only considered an outpatient procedure in five of Italy's 20 regions. In others, patients are hospitalized for three days while they take the pills, though surgical abortion is usually a one-day procedure – a situation which means Ru486 is rarely used. The problem is exacerbated by long waiting lists at hospitals and the fact the pill is only effective if taken in the first 50 days of pregnancy.
Currently, 15 percent of terminations in Lazio are carried out using Ru486, compared to just five percent in regions such as Lombardy.
Panella said that the move into family planning clinics would relieve some of the pressure on hospitals, as well as offering women multidisciplinary assistance – for example, advice on contraception.
Ru486 was only approved in Italy in 2009, following strong opposition from the Vatican and conservative politicians. By contrast, it was approved in France over 20 years earlier, and in the UK and Sweden in 1991 and 1992 respectively; in each of these countries, the majority of abortions are medical rather than surgical.
Abortion access in Italy
Women in Italy are entitled to terminate a pregnancy within the first three months. After 90 days, abortions are only allowed if the foetus is badly harmed or the mother's life is at risk.
But an estimated 70 percent of doctors and nurses across Italy are conscientious objectors, a figure which rises as high as 90 percent in some provinces.
And women who have illegal abortions face fines of between €5,000 and €10,000, which were introduced last year.
The new fines replace a 'symbolic' fine of €51, which had been given to women who obtained an illegal abortion, and was aimed at encouraging them to denounce doctors who performed it as well as encourage them to use the state healthcare system in case any complications arose.
“These fines are damaging to women,” Dr. Silvanna Agatone, president of the Free Italian Association of Gynaecologists, Laiga, told The Local at the time.
“Now if women have complications it is unlikely that they will go to a public hospital for treatment, because if the doctor who treats them reports their illegal abortion they will be heavily sanctioned,” Agatone added.
“It is not uncommon for women to experience life-threatening septicemia after an abortion. They should be made to feel comfortable about getting treatment, without fear of reprisal.”
Pro-choice activists demonstrate in Rome in 2014. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP