Legal and yet an unspeakable gauntlet: Catholic Italy does everything to make it more difficult for women to exercise their rights.
Marte Mancha is 46 years old and part of the Non Una Di Meno network, a feminist group that supports young women with abortions. Our meeting point is the desolate town of Fabriano in Le Marche, a region in north-eastern Italy with 9500 square kilometers and 1.5 million people.
The Marche was part of the Papal States until 1870 and is particularly conservative to this day. For example, the abortions take place on a Saturday at 8 a.m. in the hospital in the provincial capital, Ascoli. “Non Una Di Meno” picks up the women at home.
The undercover operation
So that parents or roommates do not become suspicious and possibly intervene, a code word is agreed, such as “Meet my friends,” says Marte. In the hospital, activists wait until the procedure is over, always in contact with the patient via WhatsApp.
In Ascoli, only one gynecologist carries out the procedure. Under difficult circumstances, because the staff often refuse any support, do not give painkillers or leave the operating room, says Marte.
Conscientious objection is permitted by law, but can have serious consequences. “We literally stand by with the law in our hands, reminding staff of the Hippocratic Oath and threatening lawsuits if necessary to enforce abortion rights,” she said.
The stigmatization of abortion also means that many prospective doctors are not trained in abortion at the university. Knowing that abortions are detrimental to a career, they don’t even want to learn this: “Anyone who does not assert any reasons of conscience must fear that they will only have abortions for the rest of their lives and will not advance professionally.”
Because of the stigmatization of abortion, many prospective doctors are not even trained for abortions.
consultation and reflection
Before a woman can legally have an abortion in the first 90 days, she must go to an official counseling center and, after a week’s reflection, confirm her will. In this context, Marte tells of a special incident: she gave a young woman the telephone number of such a counseling center, found in the PDF address list of a hospital. But the woman ended up with the number directly with the abortion opponents of Pro Life.
Patients often have to travel far to get a legal abortion. Because many gynecologists refuse abortions throughout Italy for reasons of conscience. In the Marche, the proportion of these doctors is particularly high at 73 percent, says left-wing activist and lawyer Agnese Santarelli.
Right sets the tone – Church always against
Georgia Meloni’s post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia won regional elections in Marche in 2020. Since then, according to Santarelli, the regional government has only allowed the RU-486 abortion pill in combination with a one-day hospital stay. This has further increased the hurdles, although the national Ministry of Health allows the mere prescription by a doctor.
It’s been a problem across Italy ever since the abortion law came into force 44 years ago.
The massive obstruction of abortion is nothing new, but it has intensified since the right-wing election victory. “It’s been a problem across Italy ever since the abortion law came into force 44 years ago. The Catholic Church has never made a secret of its dislike,” emphasizes Santarelli.