A question of ethics

Abortion key issue in upcoming elections

Editorial Staff
February 21, 2008

A longtime political hot potato has forced its way into Italy’s election campaign. A revival of the ethical and moral issues behind the country’s current abortion legislation, the so-called Legge 194, has caused uproar and debate among both pro-life and pro-choice advocates.


Centre-right premier Silvio Berlusconi recently said he would support a proposal made by a political ally to spearhead a United Nations moratorium on abortion. Journalist Giuliano Ferrara, editor of the right-leaning daily Il Foglio and a former political associate of Berlusconi’s, recently decided to run alone and launch his own pro-life ticket for the upcoming elections on April 13–14. The first person to call for a UN moratorium on abortion, Ferrara will be allied with Berlusconi’s new People of Freedom party and promises to change the existing abortion law if he should win the elections.

Although Berlusconi has not been clear on his position regarding the current abortion law, his party’s spokesperson on family issues, senator Maria Burani Procaccini, has stated that the centre right would present a bill to change abortion rules if victorious. The proposed amendment would make it more difficult to terminate a pregnancy, said Burani Procaccini.


The current law in force, approved in 1978 after a prolonged battle with dissident Catholics, allows abortions until the 90th day of pregnancy. Pregnancies can be terminated after this point only when the mother’s health is at risk or when the fetus is deformed.


Most centre-left politicians have repudiated Ferrara’s campaign. Pro-choice rancor was furthered by a police intervention at the Federico II hospital in Naples after a nurse called authorities to report an ‘infanticide’. Police arrived and questioned a woman who had terminated a pregnancy in the 21st week because the fetus was diagnosed with Klinefelter syndrome, which causes mental handicaps. Officials confiscated the woman’s medical records and took the aborted fetus for testing.


The controversial incident sparked indignation from women all over the country. A series of sit-in protests were organized in Rome, Bologna, Milan and Naples. Pro-choice campaigners called the incident in Naples an invasion of privacy and expressed support for a woman’s right to choose abortion. ‘The demos are a very opportune response to the witch hunt climate that is being created around the question of abortion,’ said Silvana Mura of the centre-left Italy of Values party.


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