Italian UN Surprise Intrigues Pro-Lifers

Italy’s Parliament passed an emphatic measure last week directing the Italian government to push for a United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution that "condemns the use of abortion as an instrument of demographic control and affirms the right of each woman not to be forced to undergo abortion." The move has surprised pro-life observers at the UN, where Italy almost invariably supports the European Union (EU) majority in measures hostile to the rights of the unborn.

The parliamentary effort was led by Rocco Buttiglione, head of the Union of Christian Democrats, with the support of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s governing People of Freedom Party and the Center Democrats. Leftist parliamentarians sought to dilute the proposal by tacking on a rider promoting contraceptives, but this was voted down. A number of left-wing politicians nevertheless voted in favor of the motion, which is structured principally as a common-ground initiative emphasizing the right of women to be free from coerced abortion. The preamble also criticizes sex-selective abortion, which principally targets the "female conceived."

It is anticipated that a General Assembly resolution will call for a non-binding moratorium on forced abortion, modeled after a moratorium on the use of the death penalty which attracted support from a majority of member states in past years.

In advance of any UN initiative, Italy will seek support from the 27 countries of the EU. European parliamentarian Carlo Casini, a pro-life stalwart, will propose a European parliamentary resolution in favor of the moratorium, which, if approved, would represent the consensus EU position.

Though generally pleased with the initiative, some pro-lifers have expressed concern with certain statements by Buttiglione, a well-respected Catholic politician and friend of the late Pope John Paul II. Noting that the Obama Administration expressed a desire to find common ground on abortion following Pope Benedict XVI’s meeting with the American President, Buttiglione predicted that Obama would support this initiative. Some see this as unduly optimistic.

Buttiglione also emphasized reducing the need for abortion. In so doing, he echoed statements made by American Catholic supporters of Obama such as Douglas Kmiec. In an interview with Corriere della Sera , a right-leaning major Italian newspaper, Buttiglione further distanced himself from his past efforts to fight legalization of abortion, calling them a "mistake."

Gianfranco Amato, an Italian attorney active with the pro-life organization Scienza & Vita who has had a longtime association with Buttiglione, vouched for Buttiglione’s intentions, however, noting that his position was dictated by pragmatic concerns as to how best advance respect for life. He told the Friday Fax that Buttiglione’s statements concerning Obama were simply "practical and tactical," and his actions were consistent with the principle that Catholic politicians should seek to minimize "evil" outcomes wherever possible.

Italy in many ways is a contradiction. Despite its pro-abortion position at the UN, its low birthrate and the country’s liberalization of its abortion laws in 1978, Italy also boasts one of Europe’s most politically-active, unabashedly Catholic clergy and laity, and the nation’s law banning embryo destructive research is considered a model.

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