Women´s reproductive rights in Italy: the new government nostalgic for the old times

“Abortion is the number one cause of femicide in the world”: this is what a pro-life organization declared on the black-and-white posters that have appeared in several areas of Rome, in May 2018. Feminist groups condemned the posters as “disgraceful” while others disapproved of the wrong use of the word “femicide” which means the killing of women by men. Even though the posters were removed, it was definitely an awful way of attracting attention to a campaign against abortion besides being offensive to women, especially those who experienced abortion or gender-based violence.

Currently, Senator Simone Pillon of the far-right League party is drawing attention for his hard-line conservatism on social and gender issues. He is a co-organiser of the “Family Day,” a yearly anti-gay-marriage event, and often campaigns against what he describes as the “gay lobby.” Recently, he announced that his next step will be making abortion illegal.

“Let´s save motherhood, otherwise Italians will go extinct!”

According to Pillon, whilst “unfortunately” there are no political circumstances to ban the abortion so far, his aim is to achieve a “zero abortion” policy. As he stated, it is necessary to help women who want to abort and are in economic and social difficulties, by preventing them from interrupting the pregnancy through economic incentives and if they still want to abort, “we will force them not to do so!” As he said, this government – mainly composed of men who do not support women’s rights and freedoms– has to save motherhood, otherwise Italians will disappear by 2050. Besides being disrespectful for women, by considering them as tolls for reproduction, Pillon´s comment is also racist, since the Italian population is composed of migrants as well as Italians. What Pillon should understand is that thanks to migrants, population will rise again. It is not a matter of true Italian blood. History teaches it. In the past, also Italians were migrants and also people who agree with Pillon have some ancestor who migrated to Italy. We are a large community; it does not matter who was born where. If the matter is to increase the population, let´s consider migrants who live in Italy as Italians.

Pillon would like to follow the example of Argentina which recently banned the legalization of abortion, only allowing it in the case of rape or if there is a risk to the woman´s life, even though doctors quite often refuse to perform the procedure. Probably Senator Pillon does not know – or does not care, since his supreme aim is the growth-enhancement of the Italian race- that Argentina has a high rate of women younger than 25 hospitalised due to complications form clandestine abortions. Every year about 3.000 women end up in the hospital and many of them die from unsafe terminations.

This year, Italy has marked 40 years since abortion was made legal. Under Law 194, abortion is legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. After that time, it is allowed only if the life of the mother is at risk or there is a foetal abnormality or malformation. If there is a chance the foetus can survive outside the womb, termination is lawful only if pregnancy or delivery is a serious risk to the woman’s health. However, a large proportion of doctors refuse to carry out terminations on the grounds of conscientious objection, so that many women are still unable to access the procedure. Over 70 percent of gynaecologists in Italy refuse to perform abortions, a rate that has risen over the past ten years. Since many women are unable to find a doctor or hospital willing to provide the legal abortion services and often, because of serious delays in access to services, many women fall outside the legal time limits for legal abortion services. As a result, women seeking abortion care are often forced to travel to other health facilities in another part of the country or abroad. However, when a woman is unable to travel her only options are to go to unsafe clandestine places risking her health and life or to carry a pregnancy to term against her will. Therefore, women who resort to a clandestine abortion are often afraid to seek post-abortion care if complications arise, with potentially severe consequences to their health and life.

Women´s sexual and reproductive rights are human rights. States have obligations to respect and protect women´s sexual and reproductive rights and to recognize their right to make autonomous and informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive life. However, in this field, women´s right to decide freely often clashes with practical and social barriers. Very often stigma linked to the criminalization of abortion exacerbates the woman´s suffering and hampers women´s sexual autonomy and freedom, making her feel guilty and alone.

The attitude of this new government brings Italy back about 50 years: women´s sexuality is still inextricably related to reproduction and women are expected to be sexually passive. Defending the foetus rather than a woman´s life by forcing her to have a child she does not want, brings us back to the same old gender stereotypes and imposition of gender roles. It sends the message that equality between women and men is not possible, that women are not empowered and their first aim is to procreate, and their other contributions to society are not important. Especially for young girls, it is being taught that is it more important be mothers than go to college. Those who position themselves with the so-called “pro-life” stance are those who rail against early, realistic and non-judgmental sex education, advocacy and provision of contraception and greater female autonomy in general. It is necessary to face reality, especially for those who are “pro-life”. Restrictions on abortion do not decrease its practice. Women, the only ones entitled to decide about their bodies, will always find a way to terminate their pregnancy with or without legal means, risking their lives. A law which legalizes abortion is good for women’s wellbeing and equality. Indeed, without women´s control over their own reproductive lives, there is no equality between women and men. Having the ability to control if and when to have children, determines women and girls´ role in the society as well as their right to determine their education and career. Legal abortion is important not only because women will find a way to get it anyway, but also because women´s desire and freedom to pursue the life they want is no less important than men´s aims. Rather than aiming at “Zero abortion”, the government should work on providing sex education and gender equality in every school, empowering girls to make free and informed decisions and, last but not least, making them aware that they themselves are the only persons entitled to decide about their sexual life.


By Chiara Paganelli , WAVE Intern


Photo byAndrej Lišakov on Unsplash



Women´s reproductive rights in Italy: the new government nostalgic for the old times



Shami Chakrabarti, Of Women: In the Twenty-First Century, 2017, Penguin