ROME (AP) – Italians marched through Rome, Milan and other cities on Wednesday to protect access to abortion, which many fear is under threat from a far-right party expected to follow the lead at form the next government in the parliamentary elections.
More than 1,000 people waved banners reading “My body – My choice” and “Safe for all” and marched out of Rome’s Esquilino district and at least as many out of Milan’s main train station.
The demonstrations were part of nationwide actions aimed at sending a message to Giorgia Meloni and her Friars of Italy party that the protesters will not accept changes to the 1978 legislation known as Law 194 guaranteeing access to abortion. The protests coincided with International Safe Abortion Day.
Many cited restrictions on abortion in many US states after the US Supreme Court struck down landmark legislation that had guaranteed access to abortion for decades as an indication of international trends.
Meloni “goes on saying that she doesn’t want to violate Law 194, but that she wants to guarantee a woman’s right not to have an abortion,” protester Donatella Marcelli said. “I don’t believe what she says about choices.”
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Organizers said they fear Meloni’s party will introduce “a triad of ‘God, home and family'” policies – a reference to their political manifesto.
That could “impose rigid gender roles and assign women the task of reproduction and growth of a white, patriarchal and heterosexual nation,” organizers said in their announcement of the rallies against the agenda of Meloni, who would become Italy’s first far-right prime minister of the post-war period and his first woman to hold this position.
The election also swept away veterans of successful civil rights struggles, including divorce and abortion, and lawmakers still fighting for freedoms like same-sex marriage.
Perhaps Italy’s most famous living civil rights activist, Emma Bonino, lost her Senate seat to a Roman councilwoman from Brothers of Italy, the party co-founded by Meloni a decade ago that glorifies motherhood and “traditional” families and condemns LGBTQ “lobbies”. Lavinia Munnino’s #1 campaign priority was to increase birth rates in Italy.
Bonino told AP by phone she was too busy Tuesday to prepare an appeal for a close-race recount to discuss civil rights concerns. During the campaign, Bonino expressed concerns that Meloni would make access to abortion more difficult.
Italy allows abortions on request in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy or later if a woman’s health or life is at risk.
As a young woman, Bonino, now 74, led successful efforts to legalize abortion and divorce in the 1970s, both of which were aggressively opposed by the Vatican, which wields political influence in Italy.
Ahead of the Sept. 25 general election, Meloni said she would respect the 1978 law but would urge measures such as economic aid for women who choose to give birth rather than have an abortion.
The law allows health workers to register as conscientious objectors so they don’t have to perform abortions. In some regions, including one where Meloni’s party rules, the percentage of objectors is so high that women are forced to travel to other parts of Italy to obtain an abortion, Bonino has noted.
Among others defeated by right-wing candidates was Monica Cirinna, a Democratic Party lawmaker who was behind passage of a 2016 law legalizing same-sex partnerships. Italy was the last stand in western Europe for this recognition, but Cirinna was thwarted in her efforts to allow adoption by same-sex couples.
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Alessia Crocini, leader of the Rainbow Families group, which campaigns for the rights of LBGTQ families, called Meloni’s victory “terrible news”. Human rights activists expected it, “but when something like this happens, it becomes real, it’s quite shocking,” she said.
“I’ve been an activist for a very long time and there are people I don’t know who write to me on Instagram: ‘I’m scared’, ‘I don’t know what to do’, ‘I’m really worried, I want to cry.'”
Crocini claimed Meloni’s goal is to “break the LGBTQ movement.”
Also losing was Democratic Party Senator Emanuele Fiano. The son of a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp during World War II, Fiano has fought against the rise of neo-fascist political movements. As a recipient of anti-Semitic threats, Fiano has a police escort.
In a Senate district race in a Milan suburb, he was defeated by Isabella Rauti, a senator from the Brethren of Italy whose late father, Pino Rauti, helped found the Italian Social Movement, a party nostalgic for fascism and founded shortly after the end of the war became.
Meloni ignored a call from Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre, who is a life senator, to remove the three-color flame of the Italian flag, owned by the Italian social movement, from her party’s symbol. While denouncing the anti-Jewish laws of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, Meloni has defended her party’s symbol.