San Marino votes to legalise abortion

The microstate of San Marino voted on Sunday to allow abortion in a historic referendum result that brings the predominately Catholic country in line with most of the rest of Europe.

San Marino votes to legalise abortion
Campaign posters ahead of the abortion referendum in San Marino. Photo by Brigitte HAGEMANN/AFP

The tiny, picturesque republic, situated on a mountainside in the centre of Italy, was one of the last in Europe along with Malta, Andorra and the Vatican to have a total ban on terminating a pregnancy.

With final results declared, 77.28 percent of voters approved a motion to allow the termination of a pregnancy up to 12 weeks.

After the 12-week mark, abortion would only be allowed if the mother’s life was in danger or in the case of foetal abnormalities that could harm the woman physically or psychologically.

More than 35,000 voters, a third of them living abroad, were eligible to vote in the referendum initiated by the San Marino Women’s Union (UDS). The turnout was just over 41 percent, the ministry figures showed.

READ ALSO: The long road to legal abortion in Italy – and why many women are still denied it

In the absence of opinion polls, nobody had wanted to call the result beforehand.

Before the result came in, Francesca Nicolini, a 60-year-old doctor and member of UDS, had argued: “The majority of young people are on our side, because it’s an issue that directly affects their lives.

“It’s unacceptable to view women who are forced to have abortions as criminals.”

The influence of the Catholic Church remains strong here, and Pope Francis last week reiterated his uncompromising position that abortion is “murder”.

After the result, campaigners for the change wanted swift action in parliament.

“It’s a clear victory,” campaigner Vanessa Muratori told local television. “We are now waiting for a law to match the results.”

Photo: Brigitte HAGEMANN / AFP

Currently, abortion carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for the woman and six years for the doctor who conducts the procedure.

However, nobody has ever been convicted. Women who choose to have an abortion typically cross into Italy, where it has been legal for more than 40 years.

READ ALSO: San Marino offers tourists Sputnik Covid vaccine for €50

Opposition to decriminalising abortion was led by the ruling Christian Democratic Party, which has close ties to the Catholic Church and which called for a “No” vote to “defend the right to life”.

But its deputy secretary Manuel Ciavatta had told AFP before the referendum that his party, which has just over a third of MPs, would respect the result.

“The population is very divided on the issue,” he told AFP last week.

“And even in parliament, there are members of progressive parties who are against abortion, and MPs from the right who are in favour of abortion rights, notably in cases of rape or foetal abnormalities.”

His party would “respect the voice of the voters”, he added.

Parliament must now act to make the change law.

The vote signals a radical change for San Marino, where the ban dates back to 1865 and was confirmed by both the fascist regime in the early 20th century and then again in 1974.

Figures from Italy suggest few women from the tiny state cross the border to take advantage of the abortion laws there.

Between 2005 and 2019, only about 20 women a year from San Marino had abortions in Italy, falling to 12 in 2018 and seven in 2019, according to official Istat data cited by the campaigners against abortion.

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Protesters gather in Milan as Italy limits same-sex parents’ rights

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Milan on Saturday in protest against a new government directive stopping local authorities from registering the births of same-sex couples' children.

Protesters gather in Milan as Italy limits same-sex parents' rights

“You explain to my son that I’m not his mother,” read one sign held up amid a sea of rainbow flags that filled the northern city’s central Scala Square.

Italy legalised same-sex civil unions in 2016, but opposition from the Catholic Church meant it stopped short of granting gay couples the right to adopt.

Decisions have instead been made on a case-by-case basis by the courts as parents take legal action, although some local authorities decided to act unilaterally.

Milan’s city hall had been recognising children of same-sex couples conceived overseas through surrogacy, which is illegal in Italy, or medically assisted reproduction, which is only available for heterosexual couples.

But its centre-left mayor Beppe Sala revealed earlier this week that this had stopped after the interior ministry sent a letter insisting that the courts must decide.

READ ALSO: Milan stops recognising children born to same-sex couples

“It is an obvious step backwards from a political and social point of view, and I put myself in the shoes of those parents who thought they could count on this possibility in Milan,” he said in a podcast, vowing to fight the change.

Milan's mayor Giuseppe Sala

Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala has assured residents that he will fight to have the new government directive overturned. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Fabrizio Marrazzo of the Gay Party said about 20 children are waiting to be registered in Milan, condemning the change as “unjust and discriminatory”.

A mother or father who is not legally recognised as their child’s parent can face huge bureaucratic problems, with the risk of losing the child if the registered parent dies or the couple’s relationship breaks down.

Elly Schlein, newly elected leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, was among opposition politicians who attended the protest on Saturday, where many campaigners railed against the new government.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party came top in the September elections, puts a strong emphasis on traditional family values.

“Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby!” she said in a speech last year before her election at the head of a right-wing coalition that includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Earlier this week, a Senate committee voted against an EU plan to oblige member states to recognise the rights of same-sex parents granted elsewhere in the bloc.