Commentary. Earlier this month, Verona, Italy, declared itself a ‘pro-life city,’ endorsing a Lega proposal, and began funding pro-life activist groups. The decision was devastating, but we should not speak about the abortion debate in shallow terms.

The church, the state and freedom of choice for women

I am taking part in the protest together with my female friends, who are outraged at the motion passed by the City of Verona and the vote of the city council representative from the Democratic Party. To attack Law 194 means to abolish everything that we have tried to do to protect women from unsafe abortions; and little has actually been done, because Law 194 still allows freedom of conscience for the physician, which is how choice can be circumvented in practice. Law 194 must absolutely be kept on the books.

At the same time, I think I should emphasize one point on which I disagree with my friends. I don’t think it’s right to say that abortion is just another medical procedure, like pulling out a tooth. I’ve never been pregnant, so it has never been an issue for me, but I’ve seen a number of my younger friends have to face it: it wasn’t quite so simple for any of them.

In the case of abortion, there are two possible subjects in conflict: on one side, there is a woman, usually young, but perfectly capable of understanding and choosing for herself, and who knows the difficulties that she would face because of an unwanted child, including the financial difficulties to feed it and raise it until it is able to support itself. In most cases, the man who impregnated her is uninterested in providing support.

On the other side, there is a fetus: a thoroughly imperfect subject, which represents the potential life of a person, but is not a person, as it lacks the neurological system that would allow it to be one.

Therefore, two completely different kinds of subjects are involved, and the choice of the woman must be free and responsible. It is absolutely untrue that a woman undergoing an abortion is killing a human being: the human being is not there yet. I am well aware that the Church believes that a human being exists from the moment of conception, but as long as there is no person present as such, it is impossible to speak of a human being.

The choice involved here is a choice that clearly involves questions of humanity, and must be taken seriously as a result. All the young women I have known who have had to make that choice may have suffered as a result—as with any potentiality that was not realized.

Thus, I don’t agree that we should speak about this in shallow terms—not to mention make jokes in dubious taste, such as the slogan I encountered that said, “Keep the Vatican out of my panties.”

In these cases, we must remember that the Catholic Church has its own code of behavior, which has nothing to do with the laws of the state. I do not think it is appropriate to lose sight of this distinction, which Italy took as long as it did to finally make.

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