No Thanks: Italy and Abortion

Posted: Apr 25, 2008 12:01 AM
No Thanks: Italy and Abortion

In mid-April, Italian voters returned former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to power. Election post-mortems focused on what Berlusconi would do about the economy, crime, and Italy’s illegal immigration problem.

Just about the only thing that was not discussed was an issue that figured prominently in the campaign: abortion.

“Abortion to play a prominent role in Italian elections” was the headline of an Associated Press headline only two months ago. A contemporaneous New York Times story told readers that the abortion issue was at the “center of the Italian electoral campaign.”

And only a week before the Italian elections, the Los Angeles Times proclaimed that the “abortion issue [was] back” in Italy and Spain.

All of these stories described the mounting political and cultural challenges to the 1981 Italian law legalizing abortion. Now, Berlusconi’s spokeswoman on family issues proposes a new abortion law restricting abortion only to the first trimester—and then, only in “really justified cases.”

Then there is the case of Giuliano Ferrara, whom the New York Times says “combines the political theatrics of an Abbie Hoffman with the rhetorical flair of a William F. Buckley.” A former Communist, Ferrara now edits a conservative newspaper called Il Foglio, “the Sheet.”

Ferrara used his paper and talk show to advocate a moratorium on abortion and “to call attention to the value of life.” He then ran for Parliament on the “Abortion? No Thanks” slate.

This is not the first time Ferrara has bucked conventional secular wisdom. His paper has also supported the Catholic Church on matters like bioethics, relativism, and the decline of the Christian faith among Italians—this despite the fact that Ferrara is an atheist.

While Ferrara insists that he is a “nonbeliever,” other Italian politicians, as Britain’s New Statesman put it, “have been eagerly declaring their Christian credentials.” According to the publication, this eagerness is a response to what it calls the “crucial change” in Italian life since 2001: “the collapse of every grand political idea.”

Given this “crucial change” and the response to it, the failure to even mention abortion in the electoral post-mortems stands out. It reminds me of the Spanish government’s response to a pro-family rally last December in Madrid that drew a reported 2 million people. Instead of reconsidering its policies, the government demanded an apology from the Catholic Church.

Not surprising, I suppose, European elites cannot contemplate that secularism, like every other “grand political idea,” has been found wanting—without, at the same time, acknowledging what is for them unthinkable: Europe’s Christian roots.

Yet, what is happening in Italy and Spain, as well as the rest of Europe, suggests that many Europeans are now finding “grand political ideas” a poor substitute for faith. A strong Euro and generous government benefits are small consolations for societies, which the New York Times says are “steeped in death and decline.”

The remedy for that is respecting the value of life, which starts with saying “Secularism? No thanks.” Maybe the Italian elections give hope for Europe after all.