Italy: Referendum Vote Upholds Fertility Law, May Jeopardize Legal Abortion

Italy’s referendum to loosen a restrictive fertility law failed on Monday due to low voter turnout in a vote that the Pope urged Catholics to boycott. Not only does Monday’s referendum vote uphold what women’s rights and reproductive health groups are calling the most restrictive fertility laws in Europe, but it has also led to questions about the status of legal abortion in Italy.

Called the Medically Assisted Reproduction Law (MARL), this law places a ban on the use of embryos for scientific research, on embryo screening for hereditary diseases, on the use of donor sperm or eggs for couples not in “stable” heterosexual relationships, and limits fertility treatments to three embryos per hormone cycle, among other restrictive measures, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The Catholic Church, including Pope Benedict XVI, urged Catholics to abstain from voting on the measure. In a referendum that required a 50 percent voter turnout, only 26 percent of Italy’s 50 million eligible voters went to the polls. However, roughly three-quarters of those who did vote were reportedly in favor of repealing some or all of MARL’s restrictive measures, according to the LA Times.

Women’s rights groups, which along with Italy’s Radical Party gathered four million signatures to bring about the referendum vote in the first place, warned on Monday that the referendum’s failure could lead to restrictions on a woman’s legal right to abortion. Abortion was legalized in Italy in 1978 and re-affirmed in a 1981 referendum. On Tuesday, Italian Cabinet Minister Enrico La Loggia suggested that the debate on abortion might in fact be re-opened, though not right away, reports the Jurist. Further, as MARL grants certain rights to human embryos, it may actually contradict current abortion law in Italy, according to the LA Times.

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BBC News 6/12/05; Christian Science Monitor 6/14/05; New York Times 6/ 14/05; Jurist 6/14/05; LA Times 6/14/05

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