Giulia Blasi is a writer and activist based in Rome, and the author of the feminist primer “Manuale per ragazze rivoluzionarie” (Rizzoli, 2018) and “Rivoluzione Z” (Rizzoli, 2020), and “Brutta” (Rizzoli, 2022).
ROME — When questioned about her views on abortion rights, Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni replied that she intends to give women “the right to not have an abortion.”
Meloni — on track to become the first female prime minister in the country’s history — has also said she intends to “fully enforce” Law 194, which protects abortion access.
This choice of words may have reassured some of the electorate, who otherwise would not have voted for a transparently anti-choice party. But her words must also be weighed against her actions, her party’s policies at the local level, as well as those of her close allies — all of which paint a rather different picture.
As it currently stands, in order to obtain an abortion, Italian women must undergo a medical examination, observe a seven-day waiting period and sustain a mandatory counseling session aimed at helping remove “any obstacles” to carrying the pregnancy to term.
This provision, which sees the will of the pregnant person as subordinate to public interest in their fertility, temporarily places women’s bodily autonomy on hold, subjecting it to the community’s decision. This is then compounded by the alarming number of conscientious objectors in hospitals and clinics all over the country — the national average is calculated to be around 70 percent.
Thus, in several regions and even large cities – especially in the South – a safe and legal termination is impossible to obtain due to a lack of health care providers willing to carry out the procedure. Notably, the aforementioned Law 194 protects conscientious objection on condition that it doesn’t lead to a disruption of service, but it doesn’t set a maximum number of objectors per hospital or clinic.
It’s also important to note that this law doesn’t actually protect the right to abortion. While the spirit of the bill, which was signed into law in 1978 and has remained untouched since, was to ensure that any woman who wanted an abortion could obtain one, its final formulation describes its goal as “protect[ing] human life from its inception.”
Frustratingly, it’s near impossible to obtain any official data on the state of abortion access at the local level in Italy, particularly since health care is managed at the regional level, and each region enjoys considerable autonomy. Authors Chiara Lalli and Sonia Montegiove tried to piece together the facts in their 2022 book “Mai Dati,” chronicling their failure to come up with a comprehensive picture of the state of reproductive health care services in the country, as well as the reticence they encountered in their attempt.
However, these problems aren’t necessarily new. During the recent tenure of center-right Minister of Health Roberto Speranza, no official investigation was launched to fix the problem and ensure women could access the procedure or be prescribed RU-486 — an abortion medication that makes it possible for women to terminate a pregnancy in the early stages, safely and at home.
Several Italian regions run by a center-right or right-wing administrations — Piedmont, Umbria, Abruzzo and Le Marche among them — have severely limited the distribution of this medication in family planning clinics, or have restricted its use to a mandatory three-day hospital admission.
However, after last week’s elections, any changes to fix the problem abortion access appears unlikely.
For example, Le Marche is currently governed by Francesco Acquaroli, a member of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, who explicitly opposes abortion on grounds that it would lead to the “ethnic replacement” of Italian people. According to him, white women, it seems, should be forced to have more babies in order to maintain white supremacy.
This line of increasing births by discouraging women from terminating unwanted or unplanned pregnancies has also been echoed by Letizia Moratti, a former minister under Silvio Berlusconi and potential center-right candidate for governor of Lombardy.
When asked about her views on conscientious objection in the region — which is at around 60 percent — Moratti dodged the question by citing Italy’s declining birthrate, calling abortion “a wound and a painful decision,” and declaring her support for a full application of the law to support women who may feel financially insecure. She’s currently serving as Lombardy’s regional councilor for welfare.
Doubling down on this angle, in recent days, members of Brothers of Italy’s regional administration in Liguria outlined a proposal for a law, which would further support and increase the presence of anti-choice activists in hospitals, with the aim of dissuading women from terminating unwanted pregnancies.
Meanwhile, at the national level, on September 16, 2022, the leaders of the incoming governing coalition — Meloni for Brothers of Italy, Matteo Salvini for the League and Silvio Berlusconi for Forza Italia — officially committed to promoting the anti-choice manifesto presented by the conservative organization ProVita & Famiglia.
ProVita is a powerful and ostensibly well-funded pressure group that has already seen several of its members elected to parliament. It’s also one of the forces behind the presence of anti-choice volunteers in hospitals and family planning clinics all over the country.
Women who have spoken to me on condition of anonymity describe being subjected to considerable — and often intolerable — psychological pressure at the hands of the health care providers who performed their mandatory medical and psychological examinations.
Some were told outright lies and were traumatized. Others were offered money from anonymous donors to carry their pregnancies to term.
Anti-choice activists also often point out that those who do not wish to become mothers can still carry a pregnancy to term and put the baby up for adoption. A choice that, while entirely possible, is likely a lot more traumatic for the pregnant person than an abortion — not least because Italian legislation doesn’t contemplate open adoption, making it impossible for birth mothers of adopted children to maintain a relationship.
Reproductive rights activists in Italy have long been campaigning for a reform of Law 194, a reform that hardly would have passed during the most recent legislature due to its mostly social-conservative majority. And they have good reason to believe that the incoming right-wing government will actively fight abortion access by leveraging the law’s multiple weaknesses.
It seems that, inevitably, the fight will return to the streets once more.