Italian women to march against ‘pro-life’ city council

Women's rights groups were set to march in protest in the northern Italian city of Verona later Saturday, after the local council passed a motion to fund Catholic anti-abortion groups.

Italian women to march against 'pro-life' city council
A woman holds a banner reading ''I decide'' during a demonstration in central Rome in 2014. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP.

The motion, proposed by a member of the far-right League party, declared the city “pro-life”. Under the scheme, pregnant women will be encouraged to give up unplanned babies for adoption.

The women marching in Saturday's protest will call for “safe and free” abortions on demand.

But the vote came just days before Pope Francis compared having an abortion to hiring a contract killer.

Right-wing mayor Federico Sboarina dismissed the row, saying the motion is “not anti-anything, but pro- : pro-life and the freedom of women”.

The measures would help women to “overcome the reasons, which can also be economic, which might lead them to terminate a pregnancy,” he said.

Italy's Family Minister Lorenzo Fontana, a League member himself, also backed the new measure. It did nothing more than apply the existing law, “helping a woman choose, so she can carry her baby to term”, he argued.

Forty years on, the law legalising abortion in Italy remains highly controversial, largely due to the sway of the powerful Catholic church.

Under the 1978 law, women can have abortions within the 90th day of their pregnancy, or within the 5th month for “therapeutic abortions”, induced if medically necessary.

Verona's new position is held up by critics as a symptom of a wider problem: the Roman Catholic church's influence on the country's health system, both in terms of its care structures and the training of doctors.

“We have an increasing number of hospitals that open their doors thanks to the financial support of the Vatican, while public hospitals have ever fewer resources,” gynaecologist and pro-abortion activist Elisabetta Canitano told AFP.

Private hospitals, especially ones funded by the church, can refuse to perform abortions.

'Hidden abortions'

She points to the Mater Olbia Hospital, a brand new facility located in Sardinia and owned by Qatar, and Rome's Gemelli Hospital, which is run by the Vatican. The Gemelli University Hospital Centre is also home to one of the most renowned medical schools in Italy.

“The church has always been interested in education and health, and when this generation of gynaecologists is gone, there will be no-one to replace them,” said Canitano, who works for the “Woman's Life” association that helps women with health issues.

Foreign women in particular — including refugees or prostitutes, often of African origin — are being forced into back-room abortions, she said.

“The situation is also serious for therapeutic abortions. We are bringing children into the world who we know will die, because 'it is God who gave it to you and God who takes it away',” Canitano said.

Italy has a very high number of conscientious objectors — practitioners who for moral, religious or personal reasons refuse to perform abortions.

Nationwide, 70 percent of practitioners took this position in 2016 — but that was as many as 90 percent in some southern regions, according to health ministry figures.

For the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors (AMCI) this right to opt out is sacrosanct, and it too has backed the Verona's council new stance.

Some 84,926 abortions were performed in 2016 in Italy, a figure steadily on the decline and nearly three times lower than the 1982 record.

But the AMCI says those headline figures do not tell the whole story: it estimates the number of drug-induced abortions performed in 2016 to be around 405,000, dubbing them “hidden abortions”.

It includes in these figures both the morning after pill, sold over the counter in Italy, and hospital-administered abortion pills.

READ ALSO: The long road to legal abortion in Italy – and why many women are still denied it


What you need to know about Spain’s plan to change its abortion laws

In Spain women can get an abortion for free in all public hospitals up until 14 weeks, no questions asked. But the reality is that many doctors refuse to perform them. The Spanish government is revising its laws to make sure it is enforced across the country.

What you need to know about Spain’s plan to change its abortion laws
Anti-abortion supporters take part in a march in Madrid in 2014. In Spain women have the right to abortions up to the 14th week of their pregnancy, but many doctors across the country refuse to perform the procedure. Photo by DANI POZO / AFP

Under the current legislation introduced by the previous Socialist government in 2010, women in Spain have the right to abortions up to the 14th week of their pregnancy, which is standard in much of Europe.

They also have the legal right to abort up to the 22nd week of pregnancy in cases where the mother’s health is at risk or the foetus has serious deformities.

‘Conscientious objectors’

However, in practice this law translates into a very different reality.  

Many doctors across Spain refuse to practice abortions, calling themselves “conscientious objectors”.

So many doctors deny the procedure across the country, that in five out of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain, no public hospitals offer abortions, according to data from the Health Ministry

This causes stark regional inequalities, forcing thousands of women to either travel to another part of the country, or pay for one in a private clinic, despite the 2010 law stating that “all women should benefit from equal access to abortion regardless of where they reside”.

According to the data, the provinces of Teruel, Ávila, Palencia, Segovia, Zamora, Cuenca, Toledo and Cáceres have not performed a single abortion in the past 30 years.

And, another even more revealing statistic: in 2019, 85 per cent of abortions took place in private clinics.

The map below shows the provinces that never perform abortions in red, the ones where it has varied over the years in orange, and the ones where they have always been available in green.

READ ALSO: Why does Spain top Europe’s Covid vaccination league table?

Law reform

The minister of equality, Irene Montero, has proposed a reform of the current law that would limit doctors being able to refuse the procedure.

“Conscientious objection cannot be an obstacle for women to exercise their right to terminate a pregnancy,” Montero said in a tweet. “We must reform the law to regulate it and make sure abortion is guaranteed in the public health system.”

Montero said the draft law would be ready in December after a consultation process.

However, others have said doctors should not be forced to perform abortions.

The president of Madrid’s regional government, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, said she would not force “any doctor in Madrid’s public health system to practice an abortion against their will” because doctors study medicine “to save lives and not to do the opposite”.


The situation shows abortion remains a dividing issue in Spain, where a large part of the conservative population is still opposed to a law that was introduced over a decade ago.

The former conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had promised to tighten Spain’s abortion law before he came into power in 2011.

However he was forced to drop the plans in 2014 due to disagreement within his Popular Party (PP). This angered many Catholic and other pro-life groups.

The reform would have ended women’s rights to freely terminate their pregnancies up until the 14th weeks. 

In 2015 Rajoy’s government passed another reform requiring girls aged 16 and 17 to get their parents’ consent if they wished to terminate a pregnancy. But the measure failed to pacify pro-life campaigners.

Montero also announced plans to repeal the 2015 reform as part of the draft law.