Health and drugs authorities in Italy approved the use of the abortion drug RU486 late Thursday after years of debate.
Though the Italian Pharmaceuticals Agency (AIFA) decided after a meeting that the drug cannot be sold in drug stores and can only be administered by doctors in a hospital, the ruling drew immediate protests from the Vatican, which said it would excommunicate doctors and nurses who prescribed the drug and any patients who used it.
The Italian drug agency said the pill can be taken up to the seventh week of pregnancy.
Since 1978, on-demand abortion has been legal in Italy for women in the first 90 days of pregnancy and until the 24th week if the life of the mother is at risk or the fetus is malformed.
The RU486 was first introduced in France almost two decades ago and is available in several other European countries. Approval in Italy, however, has been held up by the Catholic Church, which opposes abortion and contraception.
A Vatican spokesman says taking a pill may be less traumatic for a woman, but it does not change the face that it is still abortion.