Friday, December 09, 2005

A look at the Italian contest

The Financial Times takes a look at what issues are taking center stage in the run-up to the Italian elections next April.

From abortion and same-sex unions to tax breaks for the Roman Catholic Church, Italy's general election next April is being influenced by religious issues in a fashion without parallel since the 1970s.

Read the complete article Religious issues colour Italian election build-up.

After the boycott of the referendum on IVF this last summer, it was stated that Italy's abortion law from 1978 was not going to be under any attack. But now it looks as if that statement is not going to be worth much.

Last week Pier Ferdinando Casini, a centre-right leader who is speaker of parliament's lower house, agreed to set up a legislative inquiry into how the 1978 law is applied at Italy's 2,000 abortion clinics.

Francesco Storace, health minister and, like Italy's churchmen, an opponent of abortion, said women going to the clinics should know "the law isn't just about the right to abort, it's also about the right not to abort".

The opposition sees the matter differently. "Only months before a general election, the centre-right suddenly feels a need to investigate the application of the abortion law. This is aimed not at the hearts and consciences of Catholics but simply at their votes," said Giovanna Melandri, a centre-left former minister.

Pro-life advocates in the United States are always trying to push the envelope in regulating abortion to the point where clinics are pushed out of business while not calling for an outright ban (as a reversal of Roe v. Wade would be needed first). It looks as if Italy's lawmakers may be starting down that path as well in while not revisiting the 1978 law, they're going to go over the nitty-gritty in how it is applied.

The opposition is not free from the temptation to woo Catholic voters. To boost Italy's low birth rate, the Catholic-inclined Margherita party, the second biggest on the centre-left, is proposing to pay €250 a month - from the sixth month of pregnancy until birth - to housewives, unemployed women and others whose total household income is below €40,000. As it happens, abortions in Italy appear to be on the decline. In a nation of 58m people, there were about 235,000 in 1982 but only 136,000 last year.

I just hope that if such a program is created, they add safeguards to ensure that they don't breed an entitlement class of women who have children simply to live off the government.

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