Italian minister booed off stage over new abortion laws

Eugenia Roccella, Italy's family minister says she was subjected to censorship by the students
Eugenia Roccella, Italy's family minister says she was subjected to censorship by the students - Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse ceciliafabiano/Shutterstock

An Italian minister was booed off stage after a government decision to allow anti-abortion groups into clinics to persuade women not to terminate their pregnancy.

Eugenia Roccella, the family minister in Italy’s hard-Right coalition, had to abandon an event in Rome after being booed, whistled at and heckled by student protestors.

They held up placards which spelt “Io decido” or “I decide”, saying the government should have no role in whether women choose to have an abortion or not, a right that has been guaranteed since 1978.

The coalition led by Giorgia Meloni, the prime minister, last month sparked controversy after passing legislation which allows pro-life groups into publicly run family planning clinics.

Protestors hold up letters spelling out 'Io decido', which means 'I decide'
Protestors hold up letters spelling out 'Io decido', which means 'I decide' - Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse/Shutterstock

Opposition parties called the law an attack on abortion rights.

The minister, a member of the hard-Right Brothers of Italy party, later said she had been subjected to “censorship” at the event, which is intended to address Italy’s drastically low birth rate.

“This was just not about censoring me or the government, but a profound hostility towards maternity and paternity,” she claimed.

The protest swiftly became a broader political row, with Ms Meloni saying it was outrageous that the minister had not been allowed to speak.

Ms Meloni, who is staunchly anti-abortion, offered her “full and unconditional solidarity” to the minister.

“The spectacle that took place this morning … was despicable. Once again, a minister was prevented from expressing their ideas,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “It’s time to say enough is enough.”

She accused the protesters of censoring Ms Roccella, saying they had “stopped her from talking because they don’t agree with her ideas”. She called on all political parties to condemn “with no ifs or buts” the actions of the demonstrators.

The president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, also condemned the demonstration, saying that “wanting to silence those who think differently is at odds with the foundations of civilisation and of our constitution.”

But many opposition MPs refused to criticise the protesters.

“Protest is the basis of democracy,” said Angelo Bonelli, an MP from the Green-Left Alliance. He accused the government of allowing “religious-fundamentalist organisations” to enter abortion clinics and said he fully supported the demonstrators, many of whom were women.

Critics of the government say that abortion is one of the areas in which it is beginning to show hard-Right views.

Pope Francis is due to participate in the conference on fertility on Friday.

Birth rates in Italy have been declining for years, prompting concern for the country’s future. Among EU nations, Italy has one of the lowest birth rates, along with the likes of Malta and Spain.

While the right to have an abortion is enshrined in law, in reality it can be hard to access because a high proportion of Italian doctors refuse to perform the operation.

Around 68 per cent of gynaecologists identify as “conscientious objectors” on moral or religious grounds, according to the health ministry.

Rates are even higher in southern regions like Sicily, Calabria and Basilicata.