June 13, 2005
Life in a theocracy, part 3
MID-MONDAY UPDATE: Well, the final voter turnout was 26%, so the referendum was invalid. Next stop for the theocrats: Italy’s law legalizing abortion, because it conflicts with provisions of the fertility legislation that give embryos the same legal rights as born children.
MONDAY MORNING: So the land of da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo is voting to return to the Dark Ages. Or rather, not voting [September 2005: link dead, no substitute available]:
ROME (Reuters) - Italians voted in an emotionally charged referendum on fertility treatment and embryo research on Sunday but a low turnout looked set to make it invalid – a victory for the Catholic Church’s campaign for a boycott.
At the end of the first day of the two-day poll, only some 18.7 percent of those eligible had cast ballots. A half day of voting will be held on Monday until 3 p.m. (1300 GMT).
Barring an unlikely surge in turnout on Monday, commentators said the referendum that could repeal a restrictive law on assisted procreation would fail to reach the minimum turnout of 50 percent needed to make it valid.
If the referendum fails, it will be a major victory for the ultra-conservative Pope Benedict XVI, whose bishops and cardinals have been urging Italians not to vote. And it will enshrine a December 2003 law that transformed one of the world’s most socially liberal countries into a theocratic wonderland.
The law’s breadth is breathtaking: It bans almost all research on embryos, gives embryos the rights of born children, and outlaws the use of donor sperm and eggs. It denies in-vitro fertilization and other assisted fertility techniques to women beyond child-bearing age, gay couples and single people. And it means that embryos can no longer be screened for abnormalities.
The law also limits to three the number of eggs that can be harvested and fertilized at any one time. Moreover, it requires all three to be implanted in the aspiring mother’s womb at the same time—once the eggs are fertilized, she cannot refuse implantation. And because the law forbids the freezing of spare embryos, a failure to conceive (not exactly uncommon) means the entire process has to be started over again.
In some respects a successful referendum may not have made much difference, because Benedict clearly believes he is above secular law. Shortly after his April inauguration, for example, he ordered Catholic municipal officials in Spain to ignore a new law legitimizing the marriage of gay couples.
This is exactly what the religious right wants for the U.S.—total control over relationships and reproductive rights, and a theocratic veto over laws it doesn’t like. That’s why the right is so wrong for America.
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