• Short Summary

    On Wednesday 12th October, the Italian Chamber of Deputies will begin a new debate on the bill to legalise abortion.

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    On Wednesday 12th October, the Italian Chamber of Deputies will begin a new debate on the bill to legalise abortion. This is the second time the bill has been introduced in the Italian Parliament. It was defeated by the upper house, the Senate, last June, and promptly re-introduced in the Chamber. This procedure is the latest stage in the long struggle by progressives and feminists in Italy for more liberal family and sexual laws, against the opposition of conservative opinion and the Roman Catholic church.

    SYNOPSIS: The campaign to legalise divorce went on for years, and produced a greatest deal of anti-clerical feeling. It culminated in a bill which became law in December 1970. Under its provisions, divorce was legally recognised throughout Italy for the first time.

    The opponents of divorce hit back by demanding a referendum to decide whether the new law should be abolished. Under Italian law, half a million signatures were required before a referendum need be called. A million and a quarter were collected. The Constitutional Court decided that the referendum should take place, but general elections delayed it until 1974.

    The opponents of divorce, voting 'yes', -- meaning: the law should be repeated -- were headed by one of the leading members of the Christian Democrat Party, its secretary, Amintore Fanfani.

    Support for a 'no' vote -- meaning that the law should not be repealed and that divorce should remain, came from the centre and left, headed by the Communist leader, Enrico Berlinguer.

    When the Italian people cast their votes, the result was a clear majority -- 19 million votes of 13 million -- in favour of retaining the law that legalised divorce. It was the first major breach between Italian state law and the teaching of the Roman Catholic church.

    With divorce legalised, there should be no more tangles like that which involved the actress Sophia Loren and her husband, Carlo Ponti. They were charged with bigamy because Signor P?nti was regarded in Italy as still married to his first wife. Eventually, they were acquitted.

    With the divorce question settled, the campaigners for more liberal laws in Italy turned their attention to abortion. This is illegal under a law passed in 1930. Efforts to get this law repealed were among the factors that led to last year's government crisis and another general election.

    This issue became particularly acute after the industrial disaster in July last year in Seveso. Pregnant women who had been exposed to poisonous chemicals feared they might have deformed children. A number of them had abortions -- exactly how many is not known, as some of the operations were carried out abroad. But about 30 were performed in Italy, with the permission of the health authorities. This was because of a constitutional court ruling that abortion might be carried out if there was grave risk to life or health.

    Now the campaigners want the law put beyond doubt, and want abortion allowed on social as well as medical grounds.

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