Roe’s reversal makes waves in Italy

The overturning of Roe v Wade has not gone unnoticed in Italy. Not surprisingly, the US Supreme Court’s historic decision has been greeted with enthusiasm by the pro-life movement here.

“The overturning of Roe v Wade gives us great enthusiasm and hope,” said Marina Casini, president of the Movimento per la Vita.

“It indicates not only that it is a possible way, but also a way we are beginning to build. American pro-lifers teach us that a good strategy, long and patient, can bring historical results like this one.”

The pro-life organisation was founded by Casini’s father, Carlo Casini, shortly after the law was changed in 1978 to permit abortion, within certain limits. The Movimento proposed a referendum to repeal Act 194, which was held but failed to gain enough support.

Today, the organisation tries to maintain moderate language whilst firmly opposing abortion and promoting pregnancy support. Marina Casini’s statement this week suggests the tone:

“The USA, the greatest democracy of the world, looked to its smallest citizens, acknowledging their right to life. This is a historical precedent but also a stimulus for doing our best, also through the message of solidarity we daily bring with our movement and our crisis pregnancy centres.”

More recent movements tend to be more combative, more clearly identified with Catholicism, and more vocal.

No ‘right to abortion’ in Italian law

Italian law does not affirm abortion as a right; indeed, it theoretically establishes many forms of support which the state should provide for pregnant women in order to remove the need for abortion they may feel.

However, these supports are only occasionally used; state pregnancy crisis centres normally limit themselves to signing the papers which allow the abortion to take place, even for minors. A requirement that abortions should be monitored and an annual report issued, is also frequently ignored, although this has become even more relevant now that a majority of (unreported) abortions happen through abortion pills rather than surgically.

Still, the situation here is radically different from that in America under Roe, since there is no “right” to abort. Rather, abortion is permitted under certain circumstances, and normally only until three months gestation. That is the law, but the sad reality is that anybody, for any reason can obtain an abortion very easily.

Also worth noting is that the majority of obstetrician-gynecologists in Italy choose not to perform abortions, invoking a conscience clause in the law, though not always for moral reasons. Abortion supporters claim that this undermines what they actually perceive as a right to abortion.

Politicians here have generally denounced the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling. Elena Bonetti, the current minister for gender equality and family, criticised what she defines as “a ruling which leaves us astonished, and which wounds women’s rights and dignity.”

Roberto Speranza, the minister for health, affirms that “no progress is acquired forever. We must keep fighting daily in order not to go back.” And Enrico Letta, the secretary of the Democratic Party, speaks of an “ideological fury in the SCOTUS’ choice, which at one and the same time says no to women and yes to firearms.”

Emma Bonino, who was one of the main instigators of Act 194, declared that “it certainly is a step back; my solidarity goes to the American women who find themselves in the same situation as decades ago.”

A different human rights tradition

Meanwhile the leader of Fratelli d’Italia, a right-wing party is hedging her bets. Giorgia Meloni says that she isn’t working for the abolition of Act 194, but rather wants to see its first part, concerning abortion prevention, honoured. She also points out that the American situation was very different from Italy’s, where abortion is allowed by a law voted by the parliament and not by a court ruling.

Indeed, the different approach to human rights which characterises many European countries in comparison with the US has hitherto been rather evident. In spite of growing controversy over abortion, Europe tends to move from a view of the human person which maintains some ties with the classical and Christian tradition, while the American approach has tended to verge on the individualistic in the wake of social philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke and others.

By way of contrast, the countries which today present themselves as the standard-bearers of the European tradition (such as Poland, Hungary and Malta) are generally the object of supercilious contempt, while those which are more closely aligned with American “progressivism” are hailed as the ushers of modernity.

But the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision might bring some fine-tuning and nuancing to this excessively simplistic division. Hopefully, it will cause further reflection on the all-important matter of the protection of unborn life, and a frank, robust and honest debate on how to enact it.


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