Umbrian Feminists Resist Restrictions on Abortion: “We are the Granddaughters of the Witches Who Have Not Been Burned!”

In Italy, access to abortion is regulated by law 194/78. As we know, the backlash against the reproductive rights of women by the radical right is getting harder. In some cases this occurs by effectively canceling the right to abortion, in others by manipulating the laws and taking advantage of easily attackable guidelines approved in 2010. In Italy both things happened:

The first way is practicable by taking advantage of the law, article 9 of Law 194 provides that: Healthcare personnel and auxiliary activities are not required to take part in the procedures envisaged and interventions for interrupting pregnancy when you raise conscientious objection, with prior declaration. In any case, hospitals and authorized nursing homes are required to ensure that the required procedures are carried out and that the interruption interventions requested are carried out according to the established procedures. The region monitors and ensures their implementation also through staff mobility. Conscientious objection cannot be invoked by health personnel if the woman’s health is in danger and their personal intervention is essential to saving her life. In fact, in Italy 7 out of 10 gynecologists in hospitals are objectors. The objection rate exceeds 80% in seven regions.

The second way of monitoring is by using national guidelines. It is possible in Italy since 2009 to practice voluntary pregnancy interruption through the medical method, thanks to the introduction of the RU486 pill, which can be taken within the seventh week of gestation.

In 2010, the Ministry of Health developed guidelines stating that recourse to medical abortion should take place in the hospitalization regime, even if this indication totally disagrees with international guidelines. The use of medical abortion in Italy is very low (17.8% in 2017) because the procedure is quite unknown, the pill difficult to find, and the hree-day hospitalization makes everything even more complicated. According to the procedure established by national guidelines, and in accordance with law 194, the woman must have a certification confirming her willingness to terminate the pregnancy, wait 7 days to reflect on her choice and, if confirmed, go to the hospital to meet a doctor twice who assists her while taking the medicine (once for mifepristone and once after 24-48 hours for misoprostol). The woman could sign her exit from the hospital under her own responsibility, but national guidelines establish that the hospital must ensure hospitalization.

In Italy, the regions have exclusive competence in the regulation and organization of services and activities for the protection of health and the financing criteria of the Local Health Authorities and hospitals, as well as management control and assessment of the quality of health services in compliance of the general principles established by the laws. In some regions, such as Umbria, after eight years of struggle and pressure, we obtained the administration of RU486 pill under the Day Hospital regime, without hospitalization.

This practice was in use in Umbria for about 18 months. Then in March 2020 the government of the region passed into the hands of the Italian Lega party, who wasted no time in voting on a resolution in which the Day Hospital regime was canceled.

During the Coronavirus emergency, access to abortion was made even more difficult due to the lockdown, the transfer of services and in some cases the actual suspension, partnered with deficient and incomplete information.
Taking advantage of this emergency, the regional government in Umbria decided on June 10th to deny women access to abortion, despite the President Donatella Tesei declaring that it is an act to “protect women’s health”, who would be better supported in hospitalization. In a region that has 66% of objecting doctors, it is not difficult to reach the conclusion that, if you add medical abortion hospitalization to those for surgical abortion, in a situation of reduced services for Covid-19, many women will find themselves in the condition of not being able to have an abortion. And we know that this means two things: those who can, will do it by going to private clinics; those who cannot, will have it by illegal practice.

History repeats itself. But it is repeated because some cracks have been left open, in which the radical right, with the complicity of the Pro-Life movement have been able to slip in, exactly as it is happening in the rest of Europe. Exactly as described in Agenda Europe, strategies and paths are planned, shared, and foreseeable.

Although President Tesei and Senator Simone Pillon (both representatives of the Lega party, Pillon being at the forefront of the Pro-Life movement and promoter of the World Congress of Families) rejoice for having put in place a procedure to protect women’s health. Pillon himself declared “After so many deaths from Covid we all have the desire to see the triumph of life”, publishing on Facebook the news of the resolution from Umbria as a “victory” for pro-life movements.

Umbrian feminists (individuals and organizations) launched an appeal immediately after the approval of the resolution, finding the support of associations, and political & trade unions, both locally and nationwide. We founded the RU2020 – Umbrian network for self-determination, and organized a “Free to choose!” protest on June 21st, with the support of regional, national, and international organizations (such as Planned Parenthood Federation): to claim the right to self-determination, to free choice, to the application of law 194/78, to access to facilitated abortion, both medical and surgical, to strengthen counseling centers, to free contraception, and to the full application of the Istanbul Convention. A series of demonstrations and protests began in the regional and national institutions, which saw women from the historic feminist movement and young women on the frontline fighting, aware that rights are not “forever”: a riot of voices, of the “granddaughters of the witches who have not been burned”.

Last week, the Minister of Health Roberto Speranza, after consulting the Superior Council of Health and therefore supported by scientific evidence, announced the new guidelines that provide for the voluntary termination of pregnancy with pharmacological method in day hospitals and up to the ninth week of pregnancy. Previously it was only possible until the seventh week.

Therefore, the regions will now have to adapt. The protest continues, it will not stop. There is still much more to do. But what started from Umbrian women was an unstoppable and powerful wave, which confirms that those who fight never lose!

Written by Silvia Menecali, WAVE Individual Member, Italy

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The article photo is courtesy of Diana Crocetti.

Facebook: @ReteUmbra2020