Italy has fallen into another crisis – on top of the pandemic and economic recession we face political turmoil. Our daily news bulletin now switches between counting deaths from COVID-19 and counting votes against the government.
The turmoil started a few weeks ago, when the former prime minister and centrist, Senator Matteo Renzi, withdrew his small Italian party Viva from the governing coalition. Although the coalition government, led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, won the next vote of trust in parliament, he won this vote in the senate by narrow, 156 to 140.
After stumbling and trying to hold on, today Conte is expected to step down. After that, he can try to form a new coalition. Opposing him were far-right and right-wing parties including Lega, led by Senator Matteo Salvini, and Fratelli d’Italia, led by lawmaker Giorgia Meloni, who pushed for a general election they seemed confident they would win.
Polls seem to back them up too – Salvini’s parties are the most popular in the country right now, with 23%. It’s not enough for Lega to rule without partners, but it could be enough if they form a coalition with other right-wing parties and Forza Italia Silvio Berlusconi. And this will be very bad news women and minorities, which was in the crosshairs of the right wing.
We have immediate and fresh memories of this threat. We recently had their offensive after 2018 when the Lega party became part of the ruling coalition. In 2019, among others, Lega’s leaders trying to make it harder for people to divorce. They also openly support 2019 World Family Congress (WCF) in Verona – the annual gathering for the US, Russia and other ultra-conservative activists, and their right-wing political allies.
Salvini was Minister of the Interior in the coalition after 2018, until mid-2019 when he lost a bet for his party to gain more power, and consequently lost his government post. As part of his final power struggle amid the current political crisis, in a speech ahead of one of the recent confidence votes, he declared that Relief stands “for life, always”.
This may sound vague, but he means pretty specific – and scary if you care about women’s reproductive rights. The future Italy, Salvini explained in his speech, must be based on the Lega model which he describes as “Centri di Aiuto alla Vita [‘Centres for Life Support’ or CAVs], and not an abortion pill given on the street to anyone. “
The centers Salvini refers to are run by anti-abortion activists and try to stop women from terminating pregnancies under any circumstances. Abortion has been legal in Italy for nearly 50 years and these centers are part of the backlash that has been around since then.
These centers are also connected to the global reaction to abortion rights. The anti-abortion federation that runs it, Movimento per la Vita (‘Movement for Life’), is the main international partner of the large US Christian right group called Heartbeat International.
Last year, 18 countries openDemocracy investigation reveals how such centers around the world spread misinformation and misleading or manipulative claims. In Italy, openDemocracy found that CAV outnumbered facilities that provide abortion services – and dozens of these centers are actually located inside public hospitals and women’s shelters.
Salvini’s suggestion that the ‘abortion pill’ “be given to anyone on the street” is also untrue and is an example of anti-choice propaganda. It’s unclear – perhaps on purpose – whether she’s referring to medical abortion or emergency contraception. In either case, it is wrong.
If he meant emergency contraception, maybe he meant the fact that in October 2020 the Italian Pharmaceutical Agency announced that girls under 18 will join older women in purchasing emergency contraception without a prescription. But this isn’t an ‘abortion pill’ – it is prevent pregnancy from taking place.
Or, if Salvini is referring to the medical abortion pill, he should know that it is simply not accessible in Italy – and increasingly difficult in the midst of COVID-19. Medical discontinuation even using the pill almost impossible access for women during the first lockdown in March 2020, and even now many hospitals only provide surgical abortion.
Although the Ministry of Health relaxed regulations in August 2020, allowing medical abortion to be provided by counseling centers as well as hospitals, very few regions have actually adopted this new provision. Consequently, recent testimony shows, is that accessing medical abortion is still very difficult for many women in Italy.
Meanwhile, anti-abortion groups connected to the World Family Congress network, such as ProVita e Famiglia, campaigning against this pill, which they call “poison”.
With anti-abortion centers outnumbering abortion providers, and continuing to face barriers to accessing legal medical discontinuation, Italians are already living in many ways in the “Italy of the future” Salvini dreams of. We can’t let him make things worse.
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