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Italy prepares for fertility vote


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Italy prepares for fertility vote

By David Willey

BBC News, Rome

Italians are being called to the polls on Sunday and Monday in a referendum that the Roman Catholic Church has asked them to boycott on moral grounds.

They will vote on controversial rules on assisted fertility. A 50% turnout is needed for the law to be changed.

While many people may not be personally affected by the issue, it threatens to split Italy.

Feelings are running high over the Church's right to influence people's political as well as moral choices.

Last month, the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI congratulated Italian bishops on their decision to intervene.

But those who are trying to get the law changed say it is an unwelcome and unwarranted interference by the Vatican in Italian domestic politics.

"The Catholic Church has every right to spread its word, to send out its message, of course," said Daniele Capezzone, secretary of Italy's Radical Party, one of the trailblazers in the legalisation of divorce and abortion and now a leading promoter of the current referendum.

"But we cannot allow the legitimate moral convictions of some to result in others being forced or forbidden to do certain things."

Mixed views

The Church does not always get its own way.

There were big majorities in favour of legalising divorce in a 1974 referendum and abortion in 1981.

Mr Capezzone points out that on both these occasions Italians voted overwhelmingly against the advice of their bishops.

"I think that Italian Catholics are liberal. They are not fundamentalists. They voted in favour of divorce, they voted in favour of abortion. They have their opinions of course, but they voted to make national law remain secular," he said.

Many older Italian women are clearly quite happy to follow their bishops' advice not to vote.

"Being a Catholic I stand for my Church - that is, my Pope and my bishop," one told me.

"Each one of us has our own representatives in parliament, and certain delicate questions should be solved in parliament and not with a referendum. So that is why I am not going to vote this time."

But most women of child-bearing age I have been speaking to do not agree.

"I will vote and I will vote 'yes' to the four questions. The Church is the Church, and our republic is another thing. It must be separated," one woman said.

Another remarked: "This is a Catholic country so obviously what the Pope has to say is being taken into consideration. Personally I don't really agree with the idea of abolishing the current law and ending up in a nowhere zone."

Invalidated referendum

One of the four questions in the referendum concerns embryo stem cell research. As the law stands this is forbidden.

Dr Giovanni Blandino, a medical researcher, said: "I think it is very important that the researcher can investigate the potential therapy of the stem cells, because the stem cells can be a very precious source to cure many diseases - such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes."

The ground rules of Italian referendums are that, irrespective of the proportion of "yes" and "no" votes, more than 50% of registered voters have to turn out in order for a ballot to be valid.

So the Church's ploy to tell believers not to vote this weekend could easily invalidate this referendum.

Political commentators are speculating that this may all be the prelude to a Vatican-inspired political manoeuvre to turn back the clock and make abortion a crime again in Italy.

Story from BBC NEWS:


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The church influence is very strong, although the pope hasn't openly menaced excommunication for those who will go to vote, some bishops have condamned the referendum and voting as a crime towards life and a disobedience towards the Church itself. The referendum is something more than a vote concerning stem cells research and medical assisted procreation, it's a vote against the Church influence on political life in the country. if the referendum fails, Italy would make another step towards the middle ages. The main problem is the reaching of the quorum, that is to say, 50% + 1 of voters have to vote in order for the referendum to be considered valid. However, once subtracted a 20% of voters which statistically never take part to elections out of a lack of interest, it's sufficient that the remaining 30% do not go to vote to make the referendum fail. the elections will be held today and tomorrow.

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