An estimated 150,000 people took to the streets in Milan on Saturday 14th January to protest in defence of Italy’s abortion rights.
The issue of abortion has been used as a political football in Italy in the run up to the hotly contested general election set for April. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi plans, with the support of the Roman Catholic Church, to undo a 1978 law that makes abortion legal during the first three months of pregnancy.
The Vatican has made abortion and traditional marriage a major electoral campaigning issue for the first time since 1981, when Italians rejected a Vatican backed referendum attempt to overturn the 1978 legislation. Pope Benedict XVI met with Italian politicians last week to repeat his opposition to gay unions and to the abortion pill, RU-486, which he said hid the “gravity” of taking human life.
Protesters at the demonstration, whose slogan was “let’s emerge from silence”, chanted against Berlusconi plans and the influence of the Vatican in domestic policies. Anna Annunziata, from Democrats of the Left, the nation’s largest leftist party argued that “the Vatican is free to express an opinion, but Italy must remain a lay state and the government can’t become a megaphone for the church just to get the Catholic vote.”
Abortion Rights sent a message of support to the demonstration: “Abortion Rights, the national pro-choice campaign in Britain, congratulates you on your demonstration in defence of women’s abortion rights and sends you sisterly greetings and solidarity.
US President Bush’s aggressive anti-choice and anti-contraception agenda is devastating access to safe, legal abortion across the world. Europe has not escaped the political impact of this and in many countries there are serious attempts to roll back our hard fought for reproductive rights. We are struggling against attempts to reduce the legal time limit for abortion in Britain, in Poland women are criminalised for controlling their fertility and we have been following the situation in Italy with dismay.
Advances for women’s rights to abortion are however happening in Venezuela, Brazil and perhaps Portugal and so we wish you every strength in uniting a powerful pro-choice movement to defend women’s rights in Italy.”
The Vatican won a major victory in June when it campaigned to defeat a referendum to liberalise Italy’s strict fertility law, which took effect in 2004.
Members of the Berlusconi government dismissed the demonstrations on Saturday, reiteratering their support for the “traditional family”.