Tue, Aug 10, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Berlusconi supporter attacks abortion

THE GUARDIAN , Rome

A senator in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party caused outrage across the political spectrum yesterday by proposing a law limiting free abortions to one per woman, after which they would be made to pay.

Under Antonio Gentile's law, after their first free abortion through the state health service, financially comfortable women would have to foot part and then all of the bill, varying from between 2,000 and 3,000 euros.

Gentile, who has the support of about 20 senators of Forza Italia and its post-fascist coalition ally, Alleanza Nazionale, said the proposal was to discourage multiple abortions by the cash-strapped health service and to encourage contraception. He told La Repubblica newspaper that young Italians "do not appreciate the value of contraception." He said he plans to present the law to Parliament next month.

The proposal angered politicians from other parties as well as women's rights advocates barely a week after the Vatican reiterated the Catholic Church's stance that a woman's mission is to stay at home and breed.

"Unfortunately we are inundated with Catholic fundamentalists," said one Forza Italia deputy who disapproves of the proposal.

EU parliamentarian Emma Bonino, formerly the European commissioner for humanitarian affairs, said: "More and more, we Italians are not European citizens, we are Vatican citizens. Every day we wake up and find there is something new designed to take away women's right to choose."

She said Italy was the only country in Europe where the RU486 abortion pill was not on sale, where the morning-after pill was not available over-the-counter and where there are proposals to give pharmacists the right to refuse to sell morning-after pills.

Many saw the proposal by the senator as an attempt to encourage women to have more children.

Italy's birth rate last year was Europe's lowest at 9.18 births per 1,000 population, compared to the region's average of 10.43 per 1,000.

Italy's birth rate has been low for several years, with many women choosing to focus on their careers and some couples choosing to reach a certain financial threshold before starting a family.

To encourage Italians to have more children quickly, the government offered a 1,000-euros "baby bonus" last year for every second child born by the year's end.

But the government has ended access to some fertility treatments with a law, that gives embryos equal rights to women.

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