The Italian Almanac

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An Old Rule

A court in Milan petitioned in a statement before Italy's supreme Constitutional Court to rule on Italy's 2003 law on assisted fertility, one of the most restrictive in Europe. The Milan judges said refusing access to sperm donors for "heterosexual sterile or infertile couples" denied them "the fundamental right to the full realisation of their family life". They therefore wanted the top court's view on the prickly issue, a hot political potato in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy.

Although Catholic lawmakers have joined hands across the political divide to warn against easing the law, polls say most Italians think it is too harsh and forces too many people, at least the ones who can afford it, to resort to foreign clinics. The bill was originally passed by a bipartisan alliance of Catholics in a battle which also pitted male MPs against female MPs.

At the time, liberal parliamentarians and most female lawmakers accused Catholic politicians of bowing to the Church by adopting a highly restrictive bill which they said placed women's health at risk and would deny sterile couples many of the options that are standard treatment in other European countries. Supporters of the bill said it respected the rights of the human embryo, preserved the family as the fundamental social unit and ended decades of unregulated practices which have led to notorious cases of 'granny births'.

Under the 2003 law, single parents, same-sex couples and women beyond child-bearing age are banned from using assisted fertility techniques, which are now limited to sterile heterosexual couples who are married or live together. The law bans the use of donor sperm or eggs and forbids embryos from being frozen or used for scientific research.