In a small town hall in one of the smallest countries in Europe, a heated debate on abortion rages on.
Activists on stage struggle for the microphone, while members of the audience rise to intervene.
“We can ban abortion, but it happens anyway. Abortion exists in San Marino, and unsafe abortions exist! declares Gloria Giardi on stage, to the applause of the audience.
In the Republic of San Marino, nestled in the Apennine mountains inside Italy, a campaign is underway ahead of a September 26 referendum, which will ask its 33,000 citizens if they want to legalize abortion .
Giardi is a member of the Union of Samarin Women (UDS), a group of feminist activists who have tried for years to propose abortion legislation, so that conservative governments reject every attempt.
UDS activists hope to build on the momentum created by other European countries that have recently legalized abortion, such as Ireland and Gibraltar.
“We have been waiting for this law for 43 years. We shouldn’t have to propose a referendum – it should already be a law, ”she continues.
San Marino is one of only four European countries where abortion is completely illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, serious fetal abnormality or when the mother’s life is in danger.
Just like in Andorra, Malta and the Vatican, women in San Marino risk jail if they try to have an abortion or if they help someone else to have an abortion. Many Sammarines who wish to terminate a pregnancy travel to Italy, where abortion was legalized in 1978.
But the situation is not always easy across the border. Italian doctors have the right to “conscientious objection” and to refuse to perform the procedure. Up to 71% of gynecologists in Italy are registered as conscientious objectors, which means that even in Italy, women can struggle to find a place to have an abortion before it’s too late.
“These women are alone”
Laura (Euronews uses a pseudonym to protect her identity) found out she was pregnant at the age of 39. She already had two children. In subsequent exams, doctors told her they couldn’t detect a heartbeat. Laura was not ready to have another child and worried about the uncertain health of the fetus. She decided to have an abortion, for which she had to travel to Rimini, an hour by bus in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna.
“I had to do a series of tests in Rimini which I paid for, then about 10 days later they called me to tell me when to come for the procedure,” she explained in an anonymous testimony given to UDS. The abortion itself cost her € 1,000.
“I think it is horrible that in 2021 a Sammarine is forced to go through the Italian health system and has to pay her own costs,” she said.
UDS activists denounced the “hypocrisy” of a law that prohibits the procedure but turns around when women only travel a few kilometers to carry it out, at a cost of between € 1,000 and € 2,000. Since San Marino is not part of the European Union, Sammarines cannot benefit from free health care in Italy.
Francesca Nicolini is a general practitioner and cardiologist in San Marino. She told Euronews that the financial crisis, and then the banking crisis that followed in Italy, had a huge impact on personal wealth in San Marino.
“People’s wages are low now. A lot of people don’t have enough money to pay for an abortion through the Italian health system, ”she said. “But money is not the only problem. Making the decision to have an abortion is very difficult, and there is no support here. These women are alone. It’s the worst thing. “
“We always get there at the end”
San Marino is historically a Catholic country, and the church still has a strong influence, even at the political level. “We celebrate life from start to finish,” Antonella Mularoni, opposition activist Uno di Noi, told the audience during the debate, “including those who are unable to defend themselves”.
One of the hot spots of the referendum campaigns was a controversial Uno di Noi poster, which shows a young man with Down’s Syndrome. The text asks: “I am an anomaly. Does this mean that I have fewer rights than you? Just days after the campaign officially started, there are billboard gaps across the country where the poster was ripped off.
Yes activists condemned Uno di Noi for their “instrumentalization” of a disabled person, and even No supporters distanced themselves from the message. Teodoro Lonfernini, a politician from the right-wing Samarin Christian Democratic Party, called the poster “inappropriate”, adding: “I say yes to life, but no to this kind of message”.
The poster also claimed that the new law would grant women the right to abort until the 9th month of pregnancy in the event of disability. Nicolini laughs at the idea. “Abortion at nine months is medically impossible,” she says. “This is called a premature birth because at this stage the fetus is usually able to survive outside the womb.”
Even the Sammarinese activists themselves were taken aback by the ferocity of the campaign. But who will win is everyone’s guess: there haven’t been any opinion polls in the country, and neither side wants to make any predictions about how the vote will go. UDS activists believe the vote is roughly divided based on age and religion, with younger secular voters being more likely to vote to legalize abortion.
If San Marino votes yes, the law will come into force immediately. During the mayoral debate, Giardi said it was only a matter of time before the country’s laws caught up with neighboring Italy. “San Marino will eventually come into compliance with European law,” she said. “We always get there at the end. “