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Italy abortion law changes criticized

By Julian Shea in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-25 01:01

Women hold cardboard cutouts of RU-486 (abortion pill mifepristone) as they demonstrate outside Madama Palace (Senate) against a parliamentary amendment that could make it easier for anti-abortion groups to operate in publicly-run family clinics, in Rome, Italy, on April 22. [Photo/Agencies]

A fiery debate has begun in Italy after the country's Senate approved a new law allowing what the legislation calls groups "with a qualified experience supporting motherhood" to have access to women considering abortions at public clinics.

The bill was introduced in the lower chamber of Parliament by the governing right-wing Brothers of Italy party, and it says that this is a fulfillment of the law passed in 1978 that permits abortion, which made reference to including provisions to prevent the procedure and support motherhood.

But opponents say the legislation, which was passed by 140 votes to 91 in the parliamentary vote before going to the upper house for approval, is a blow to women's rights, and have questioned the point of allowing people and groups without medical training access to women who are contemplating such a major decision.

Italian law permits abortion on request during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or beyond that if the woman's health or life is felt to be endangered.

Silvana Agatone, president of the Free Italian Association of Gynecologists, said "characters that you don't know what qualification they have" had already been getting involved in hospitals and counselling centers across the country.

"Certainly, they haven't studied, they haven't passed examinations to go and talk to women about topics for which the counselling center already has highly qualified figures to deal with them," she said.

But Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has previously defended the move, saying that allowing people opposed to abortion access to clinics was just so that they could express their opinions, and to allow women to make a properly informed decision.

"I believe that we must guarantee a free choice and I believe that to make a free choice you need to have all the necessary information," she said earlier in the year. "This is what the Law 194 foresees and I think this is the right thing to do."

Italy's birth rate has been in steady decline for more than 15 years and last year it reached a record low, with just 379,000 babies born.

According to the country's National Statistics Institute, that compares to just over 514,000 births in a year a decade earlier, a figure which was itself 20,000 down on the previous year, continuing a fall in numbers that began in 2009.

Cecilia D'Elia, a senator from the Democratic Party, said despite the government's protestations, "the truth is that the right wing opposes women's reproductive autonomy, fears women's choices regarding motherhood, sexuality, and abortion".

Italy's move goes against the tide of changing opinion across Europe, with France making abortion a constitutional right, and Malta and Poland relaxing their previously tight restrictions.

Luxembourg's Nicolas Schmidt, the lead candidate for the European Socialists Party at the upcoming European Parliament elections, called Italy's decision "a slap to the fundamental right to access safe abortion". Spain's Equality Minister Ana Redondo said the proposal amounted to "organized harassment of women".

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