Defeat of Italian referendum on medically assisted conception

Source: FSSPX News


The major abstention in the Italian referendum on June 12 and 13, 2005, on medically assisted conception, will result in its invalidation. According to figures released by the Italian minister of the Interior, three Italians in four did not go to the ballot box. It is a victory for the pope and the Italian bishops who had expressly called on the electorate to abstain.

 The Italians were asked to give their opinion on four questions concerning law “40” currently in force: the banning of embryo experimentation, the banning of the implantation of more than three embryos, the banning of recourse to heterological fertility, and the rights of the embryo, including that of knowing his or her parents.

According to the Italian constitution, a referendum of democratic right to petition in order to obtain the total or partial abrogation of a law may take place, on condition that it receives a minimum of 500,000 signatures of the electorate. As those opposed to the law had collected more than 4 million signatures, the Italian constitutional Court gave the green light, on January 13, 2005, for an abrogative referendum on this controversial law. Out of an electorate of 50 million, only 25.9% went to the polls, not allowing the validation of the referendum, which required the quorum of 50% of the voters plus one.

 Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar of Rome and president of the Italian Bishops Conference, had appealed to the Italian voters to abstain. On March 7 2005, in his opening speech of the spring session of the Bishops Conference, he asked Italian Catholics not to take part in the referendum.

 Benedict XVI took a direct part in the debate. On May 30, in his speech to the members of the Italian Bishops Conference, he supported the Italian bishops’stand against this referendum. “You are currently committed to enlightening and explaining the choices facing Catholics and all citizens on the subject of the imminent referendum on assisted conception,” he said to them. “In such a commitment I am close to you in word and prayer.”

 Speaking at the opening of a congress of the diocese of Rome on the family on the evening of June 6, the pope said he was also strongly opposed to experiments on embryos, affirming that it was “contrary to human love, to the primary vocation of men and women (…) to suppress or to alter unborn life.”

 The result of the ballot differs considerably from preceding referendums in which the popes and the Catholic Church in Italy were involved. Thus, in May 1974, the Italians were invited to express their opinion on the abrogation of the law of December 1, 1970 authorizing divorce. The Italian Episcopate declared itself in favor of its abrogation. But it was the No vote which was victorious, with more than 59% of the vote.

 On May 10, 1981, in front of 70,000 people, including members of the Italian pro-life movement, John Paul II made a strongly worded speech in support of the referendum aimed at abrogating the law of May 29, 1978 authorizing abortion. “The Church considers all legislation in favor of abortion a grave offence against the fundamental rights of man and the commandment ’thou shalt not kill’”, he said. On May 17 and 18 1981, the abrogation of the law called for by the Italian pro-life movement was rejected by 68% of the electorate, thus demonstrating the failure of the pontifical intervention.

For this referendum on medically assisted conception – on account of its resolute appeal for abstention – the Church was accused of interference in political affairs by many of the Yes voters, zealous defenders of State secularity.