40 years ago the referendum that defended abortion in Italy


Between 17 and 18 May 1981, millions of people went to vote, reaffirming their support for law 194. Before that law, which arrived in 1978, a woman who practiced voluntary termination of pregnancy was at risk of up to four under the penal code. years in prison, and whoever aborted a consenting woman as many as five.

More than 79% of those entitled to vote came to the polls to decide on five questions, two of which on the IVG. The first was promoted by the Radical Party, which asked for the total liberalization of the abortion practice, eliminating the prohibition for underage girls or for those who use it after the first 90 days of gestation, within which the 194 allows it. The radicals also wanted to extend the possibility of implementing it to private nursing homes. The other themes launched by the party of the then secretary Francesco Rutelli concerned the abolition of life imprisonment, the firearm license and the police arrest (all rejected).

The second, on the other hand, had been proposed by the Movimento per la Vita, an association born a few years earlier with the aim of combating abortion, and was supported by the Catholic world. Even Pope John Paul II, in fact, expressed himself in favor of a mobilization for the defense of the right to life, after the promulgation of law 194. Two questions had been presented: a “ceiling” which called for the repeal of the entire law, but which was rejected by the Constitutional Court, and a “minimal” one in which some reforms of the law were proposed to limit the IVG only in therapeutic cases.

After months of debate, the country arrived split in those days in mid-May, but the response of the population was clear-cut. With 88.42%, equivalent to 27,395,909 votes, the radical proposal was rejected against the 3,588,995 Yes (11.58%). While on the issue promoted by the Movement for Life there was less difference: the No was imposed with 68% against 32% who voted in favor. It was a decisive moment for Italian society, like the abrogative referendum on divorce rejected in 1974.

The famous 194 had been promulgated by Giovanni Leone three years earlier, on May 22, 1978, even if the path that led politics and the country to the decriminalization of abortion was long and intense, ending in the same weeks as the kidnapping of the leader of the Christian Democracy, Aldo Moro.

The crucial year, in which the issue gained even more prominence in the national political landscape and laid the foundations for the approval of a bill, was 1975. A referendum campaign was set up, in fact, promoted by the Radical Party. , by L’Espresso, through its director Livio Zanetti, and by the Women’s Liberation Movement, which in a short time collected almost 800,000 signatures. The referendum was scheduled but then postponed for the dissolution of the Chambers. In the same year Gianfranco Spadaccia (secretary of the radicals), Adele Faccio (Information Center on Sterilization and Abortion) and Emma Bonino were arrested on charges of criminal association and procured an abortion.

Furthermore, on February 18 ’75, sentence number 27 of the Constitutional Court established an important point: “there is no equivalence between the right not only to life but also to the health of one who is already a person, such as the mother, and the protection of embryo that person has yet to become “. A sentence that declared the constitutional illegitimacy of art. 546 of the penal code which does not provide for the use of IVG when there is danger or serious damage to the health of the mother.

In the following months, bills alternated up to the one presented to the Chamber in 1977 by the Socialist, Liberal, Republican, Communist, Social Democratic and Proletarian Democratic parties, with the first signature of Vincenzo Balzamo (PSI). The opposition of the Italian Social Movement and Christian Democracy was overcome in the Senate in May ’78, also thanks to some Christian Democrat members who voted against the party line. And despite the institutional impasse resulting from the Moro case, the law was promulgated, replacing the articles of the criminal code on abortion.


Source: L'Espresso – News, inchieste e approfondimenti Espresso by espresso.repubblica.it.

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