Thousands of Italian Women March Across Country. Demand: 'My Body, My Choice'

'40 years on from the passing of Law 194, there is still a long road ahead of us'

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Thousands of women protest in a demonstration 'Obiezione Respinta' organized by 'Non una di meno' movement to remember the 194 law after 40 years, on Saturday, May 26, 2018 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)

Thousands of women marched across Italy on Saturday afternoon to mark the anniversary of Italy’s 194 Law, which passed in 1978 and legalized abortion in the country.

Marchers fear that the far-right, anti-European Union, anti-immigrant League, which contains many anti-choice militants, will soon threaten the 194 Law. The League stands on the brink of forming a government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement following the general elections in March.

Saturday's mobilization was organized by 'Obiezione Respinta' (Rejected Objection) and the 'Non una di meno' (Not one less) movement.

"Italian women’s battles over the last four decades show that any abortion law has to be founded on women’s freedom of choice — or it won’t work,"  Michela Pusterla, an Italian feminist involved in the Non una di meno movement, wrote Friday in Jacobin. " In Italy and elsewhere, as fascist and sexist anti-choice movements grow their presence in Parliaments and public hospitals, the fight for reproductive rights becomes larger than itself. It becomes a global fight for liberation; for another society based on autonomy and self-determination."

The anti-abortion movement is strong in Italy, due in part to the strong influence of the Catholic Church.

Under Law 194, women have the right to an abortion in the first 90 days of pregnancy due to health, economic, social or family reasons, while between the 12th and 20th week, either a significant fetal abnormality must be present, posing a serious risk to the woman's mental or physical health, or there must be a danger to the woman's life if she continues with the pregnancy.

The law includes a recognition of the "social value of motherhood," and allows medical professionals to refuse to carry out abortions on the grounds of conscientious objection. According to the Italian health minister, just over 70 percent of gynecologists in Italy refuse to carry out the procedure. Campaigners say that the increased difficulty in accessing abortion is pushing more and more women to illegal, unsafe abortions or to travel abroad for the procedure.

Italy has been criticized by both the Council of Europe and the UN for the serious obstacles to accessing safe abortion.

Former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former EU Commissioner Emma Bonino was at the forefront of bringing about the enactment of Law 194. Bonino called on Italian women not to "take their rights for granted," speaking on the 40th anniversary of the law she helped introduce.  "40 years on from the passing of Legge 194, there is still a long road ahead of us," she said.

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