June 21, 2021 12:23 pm
For months in the Republic of San Marino, a group of women worked tirelessly for a referendum that could lead to a historic turning point: legalizing abortion in the country. The small state of about 33,000 inhabitants between Emilia-Romagna and Marche is one of the very few in Europe – together with Malta, Gibraltar, Andorra, Vatican City and Poland, which recently introduced an almost total ban – in which to terminate a pregnancy. it is a crime.
The penal code provides for a sentence of three to six years of imprisonment – for the woman who has an abortion and for anyone who participates – regardless of the reasons for the choice: even in the case of rape or serious fetal malformations.
In February 2021, the Union of San Marino Women (UDS) proposed the referendum question which on March 15 the college guaranteeing constitutionality declared admissible. Since then the organization has put on banquets and events in squares, bars and meeting points in the area. The question asks to legalize abortion within twelve weeks, and beyond this deadline if there is a life threatening for the woman or if there are serious malformations of the fetus. The collection ended on May 31 (earlier than expected) and on the same day a UDS delegation delivered the authenticated signatures.
“There are 3,028, many more than we needed. We are confident ”, explains Elena D’Amelio Mueller, of the executive committee of the UDS. On 10 June, the supervisory board validated the signatures and therefore the organizations are only waiting for the date of the vote to be set. As happened in Ireland in 2018, the conquest of the right to have an abortion could pass through the will of the people.
Not everyone can pay
The proximity to Italy, where the voluntary termination of pregnancy (IVG) has been legal since 1978, has meant that in San Marino the ban has persisted over the years without making too much noise: no San Marino has been condemned in recent history, women they moved to Rimini or the rest of Romagna to have an abortion in secret and for a fee. Although there are no statistics on this and no one tries to collect data.
“The price to pay is quite high”, explains Dr. Francesca Nicolini, head of the health center of Serravalle, one of the administrative units in which San Marino is divided. “For a San Marino woman to have an abortion in an Italian health facility can cost around two thousand euros. But above all it becomes very complicated ”.
According to Nicolini, one of the reasons why this has been neglected up to now is that “in San Marino there has always been a certain economic well-being” which has made it possible to meet the expenses for those not covered by the Italian health system. “Now, however, the problem becomes serious because it is not true that everyone can afford certain figures. This encourages clandestine abortions, always across the border, in structures where they may make you pay less ”.
Difficult choices and hypocrisy
Very few women are willing to talk about their abortion experience, even anonymously, and many do not even do it with the people closest to them: frightened by the possibility of a crime, they rely on the guarantee of anonymity provided by the health system. Italian for medical records.
“I was 31, I got pregnant and I was happy. But they did amniocentesis and found that the baby had Down syndrome and possibly other complications. It was very hard. The doctor helped me, explained that abortion is illegal in San Marino and advised me where to go, obviously across the border. I had to pay everything, even the necessary visit to the psychologist ”, says Martina (not her real name). “The expenses were not excessive. But I knew that in my country my choice was considered a crime and that therefore I could not talk about it with anyone. Several years have passed, now at least I can tell it, but I find it very serious that even today there are no possibilities for those who were in my condition at the time “.
Valentina, who prefers not to reveal her surname, is 35 years old and a small girl, born after a pregnancy during which she was unable to carry out prenatal tests and diagnoses for medical reasons. He signed with conviction for the referendum precisely with his recent experience in mind. “I never knew if my little girl was okay, I tried not to think about it, even when there was a risk to my health. When she was born, I thought a lot: I was lucky, but what if it didn’t happen? ”She says. “I should have made choices knowing that the state where I live would look at me like a criminal. I find it absurd and guilty. In addition to being hypocritical: to support those who want San Marino to remain the bulwark of an archaic Christianity, the problem is shifted to Rimini ”.
According to Dr. Nicolini, younger women know perfectly well how to behave: “They go to the Italian clinics, as if it were normal not to be able to do it in their own country. A few months ago I phoned a girl to tell her the positive result of her swab for covid-19. She told me candidly that it was a problem, because the next day she would have to go to Italy to have an abortion ”. The fact that over the years the San Marino governments have closed their eyes to the problem, however, entails a situation that is “unsustainable from a public health point of view”, affirms Nicolini. “We know nothing: we have no data on how many people abort, why they do it or why they got pregnant, if there is a percentage of malformations. And therefore policies cannot be programmed. There are only miscarriage statistics, the rest of the problem does not exist. Since no one talks about it, then no one has an abortion in San Marino ”.
A recurring debate
The first bill to legalize abortion in San Marino dates back to 2003, presented by Vanessa Muratori, a former councilor of the United Left. “I was disappointed because there was a lot of shyness on the part of both the San Marino left and the union,” she recalls. “I have often wondered why, and I believe that in addition to the closed mentality of a small state and the strong influence of the church, there is also a bit of distrust towards women’s ability to choose”.
Despite its proximity to Italy, “and despite certain common battles over rights, including women’s rights, San Marino has remained far behind on many fronts”, explains Maria Lea Pedini, who in 1981 was the first woman to be appointed captain regent (head of government) with the San Marino socialist party. In 1978 she was the third woman elected to the great general council, the San Marino parliament. Only in 1973 was a law enacted that allowed women “to take on public offices, jobs and functions”.
In the same year in which Pedini was elected, Law 194 on voluntary termination of pregnancy was approved in Italy. “While abortion was legalized in you, in San Marino we were engaged in other battles to advance our society. For example, the one for the institution of nursery schools, with a law that came only in 1980, or the one on counseling centers, which we have lost ”, says Pedini, who supports the UDS referendum. Among the major commitments was that on citizenship, which the San Marino citizens lost if they married a citizen of another state: in 1982 a referendum was proposed to change things, but it was rejected; in 1984 a law was passed that allowed women to retain citizenship as long as they did not express the will to take that of their foreign spouse.
After the 2003 proposal to legalize abortion, there have been two other bills and seven instances of arengo, an institution of direct democracy that allows every citizen to make a request to the regent captains on a topic of general interest. Some instances were approved by parliament, which however did not turn them into law.
The latest proposal – a popular initiative project – dates back to 2019 and was put forward by the Committee promoting the law on conscious and responsible procreation, which subsequently changed its name by recovering that of the UDS, protagonist of the battles of the seventies. However, the process has stalled. “When we tried to solicit the government we were told that the commission was awaiting an opinion from the bioethics committee, which however is not a requirement required by law”, explains Rosa Zafferani, a past as a politician in the more reformist area of the Christian Democrats San Marino is now actively involved in collecting signatures for the referendum. “At that point we clearly understood that it was an excuse and we decided to move to unblock the situation”.
The influence of the church
According to Muratori, abortion is a discourse that cyclically comes to the surface. “But we never managed to have space or get out of an apocalyptic debate,” he explains.
The influence of the church was significant. The party with the relative majority in parliament is the Christian Democrats, which included the protection of life from conception and the opposition to abortion in the government program. One of us is close to the party, the committee opposed to the referendum, born three days before the delivery of the signatures collected by the UDS.
Zafferani believes that the majority forces may have “agitated at seeing so many people signing the referendum question. Among them there are not only those notoriously left-wing or open to civil rights, but also many Christian Democrat voters ”.
In San Marino “there is a political representation that does not reflect civil society, while elements linked to Catholic fundamentalism are over-represented by the media,” says Muratori. “A priest compared us to the Nazis of World War II. But many people think differently, especially among the younger ones ”.
The hope of the referendum promoters is that these people will then go and vote. “We feel that most of the citizenship is with us. People of all ages came to sign, ”says D’Amelio Mueller of the UDS. “It was the youngest and the youngest who drove the collection. It is as if they took it for granted that women must be able to determine themselves: they almost could not believe that abortion was still illegal in San Marino and for this reason they signed up en masse ”.