June 4, 2005
Life in a theocracy, part 2
America has Tom DeLay and James Dobson; Italy has Pope Benedict. Spot the difference:
This week Pope Benedict XVI stepped into politics for the first time since his election six weeks ago, endorsing calls to voters from Italy’s Roman Catholic bishops to boycott a referendum on the country’s fertility laws.
Addressing the bishops, the Pope said that easing restrictions on assisted fertility treatments would pose a threat to life and the family. The present law, passed last year, restricts the provision of fertility treatment to stable heterosexual couples and excludes single women or same-sex couples. It also restricts surrogacy and research using human embryos, forbids sperm and egg donation, and limits the number of embryos created with in-vitro techniques to three.
The referendum, the work of liberals who regard the law as oppressive and fundamentalist, seeks to lift the ban on embryo research, remove limits on the number of eggs that can be fertilised, lift the ban on egg and sperm donors and remove language giving fertilised eggs full legal rights.
The church’s call for a boycott is designed to sink the referendum—if less than half of registered voters take part, the result won’t be valid. But the ultra-conservative Benedict may have underestimated the opposition. Although Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has sidestepped the debate—and been accused of appeasing Benedict by scheduling the vote for a summer weekend, when many Italians will be at the beach—his wife has been a vocal supporter of the referendum:
[T]he former actress Veronica Lario, by whom he has three children, favours the “yes” campaign. She revealed that, 20 years ago, she had had an abortion at six months after discovering that the child she was carrying had severe birth defects. “Veronica’s on your side,” the Prime Minister told “yes” campaigners.
She isn’t the only well-known actress the church is up against:
With a week to go to the vote, the walls of Italian cities are plastered with posters for the “yes” campaign, backed by the actresses Monica Bellucci and Sabrina Ferilli.
Signora Bellucci, who had her first child last year at the age of 36 with her husband, Vincent Cassel, the French actor, posed naked last year while heavily pregnant in the Italian version of Vanity Fair to highlight the campaign. She said that the law “creates an absurd situation, as if Italian science should stop and leave us trailing behind other countries”.
Not if hatemongers like DeLay and Dobson have their way.
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