The city-state of San Marino is one of the smallest states in the world: around 60 km2 for just over 35,000 inhabitants. The nation of around 35,000 people, estimated to be over 90% Catholic, will vote on September 26 to allow abortion up to 12 weeks gestation.
In San Marino, abortion has been illegal since 1865: it is considered a crime punishable by three years in prison for the woman and six years for the doctor who performed the abortion.
More than 3,000 signatures were collected in support of the referendum, more than double the legal requirement, reports the Guardian. This is not the first attempt, by the way. Over the past 20 years, several attempts to amend the abortion law have failed following the veto by successive governments.
Italy, which geographically surrounds the microstate, legalized abortion in 1978. Other predominantly Catholic countries, notably Ireland, have liberalized their abortion laws in recent years by referendum.
The current ruling Christian Democratic Party urged citizens to vote “no” to changing the law.
“San Marino has no obligation to pass the laws adopted by its border nations and does not need to depend on Italy's bad example,” said Dr. Adolfo Morganti of the Comitato Uno di Noi (the One of Us Committee), a pro-life group that campaigned against the legalization of abortion in San Marino.
Morganti warned that the referendum text could open San Marino to the possibility of “abortion tourism” because it does not impose a condition of citizenship or residency.
He also questioned the need to legalize abortion, given the strength of the country's social protection system, which provides assistance to pregnant women in need.
San Marino also has an already low birth rate - around 1.26 children per woman - and legal abortion is likely to add to the state's population decline, he added.
Comitato Uno di Noi has been criticized by abortion advocates for a poster campaign in San Marino depicting a boy with Down's syndrome, with the caption: “I am an anomaly, so do I have fewer rights than you? Vote no [on the referendum].”
In many countries with liberal abortion laws, such as Iceland and the Netherlands, the abortion rate of babies with Down's syndrome is over 90%.
Morganti said the poster conveys “a very unpleasant truth, which is that wherever abortion was liberalized, the hunt [for people with Down syndrome] immediately began.”
Fr. Gabriele Mangiarotti, who serves in a church in the historic center of San Marino, said changing the abortion law would be a betrayal of the country's principles. San Marino “was founded by a saint and therefore has a Christian presence in its DNA,” he said.
According to tradition, a Christian named Marinus founded a Christian community in the fourth century which eventually became the city-state of San Marino.
“Killing an innocent child is a serious act, a crime,” he concluded.