At a time when rumours are rife of a possible change in U.S. abortion law, with the Supreme Court reversing the Roe v. Wade decision, other countries are on the way to questioning what may have been presented as a woman’s “right,” but which is increasingly seen as a serious suffering imposed upon women, not to mention a violation of the sacred life of the unborn child.
In Western Europe, Italy has been engaged for several years in a long and discreet process of reducing the practice of abortion. Without any publicised legislative change, without any loud political battle, the Italian population is gradually showing its opposition to a practice that generates a lot of anguish and, of course, contradicts the values of this country, rich in Catholic tradition.
The movement is taking place on a regional scale: health care in Italy is the responsibility of the regions, not the central government in Rome. This gives local authorities the flexibility to encourage alternative policies to abortion, for example, by subsidising pro-life associations in hospitals and clinics. According to Politico, some governments even offer subsidies to women who choose to keep their babies, while bypassing guidelines to facilitate medical abortions.
The American pro-life movement and the developments underway are obviously an encouragement to Italian organisations. Mario Adinolfi, leader of Popolo della Famiglia, explains that his association was “ready to ride the wave from the U.S.A., in a fierce battle against the right to kill a baby in the womb.”
Conversely, some left-wing movements, such as the 5 Stelle Party, are concerned about this development, which they believe would call into question the right to abortion, legalized in Italy in 1978.
The problem is not only political, it is also medical. For several years now, 7 out of 10 gynaecologists in Italy have refused to perform abortions, according to the ministry of health. This percentage can be even higher in the south: 85% in Sicily, up to 90% in Basilicata. Nationally, the number of abortions in the country has halved in thirty years, from 233,976 procedures in 1983 to 102,760 in 2013. Recent data claims that 5 out of every 1,000 women had abortions in Italy in 2020.
The Catholic Church also plays a decisive role in the defence of life. The proximity of the church hierarchy to local governments, which is specific to Italy, facilitates the redirection of public funds to Catholic clinics that do not perform abortions. The stakes are high in Italy, where the low fertility rate—one of the lowest in Europe—is a serious threat to the survival of the Italian nation. Because of the symbolic legacy of Fascism, and the pro-large family discourse of Mussolini’s regime, Italian political parties, including those on the Right, are reluctant to promote an ambitious family policy to encourage births, and the subject is hotly debated in the Italian Parliament. The fight against abortion is therefore presented as a political alternative to family policy.
The Fratelli d’Italia party is particularly active on the subject. Last month, it obtained the vote in Piedmont for a €400,000 subsidy to help one hundred women who would choose not to have an abortion. Senator Lucio Malan, from Fratelli d’Italia, explains that this is nothing more and nothing less than enforcing the provisions of the 1978 law, which requires the state to offer women alternatives to abortion. He explained: “Italy has the worst birth rate in the West.” Speaking of pro-life groups, he added: “While of course they can’t be allowed to harass people, we should allow them to be present, to show that abortion is not the only solution.”
Polls ahead of the next parliamentary elections, to be held in the spring of 2023, put Fratelli d’Italia in first place and Matteo Salvini’s League in third, making a coalition of the Right a possibility. While both parties say they do not want to revisit the 1978 law, they certainly intend to continue a pro-life policy on the ground—with the support of the main practitioners concerned, gynaecologists, and obstetricians. A reverse of the Roe v. Wade decision in the United States would certainly encourage such plans.