Italian Police Interrogate Woman After Legal Abortion, Confiscate Fetus

Abortion has long been a highly controversial topic in Italy, with its large Roman Catholic population. But an outrageous move by law enforcement officials has recently made things a lot more heated — and just in time for a national election.

The controversy over Italy’s 30-year-old law legalizing abortion stirred up demonstrations this week in its defense, with Health Minister Livia Turco among the protesters.

The demonstrations were touched off by an incident in a Naples hospital on Monday.

Acting on an anonymous tip that an abortion had been performed later in a pregnancy than the law allows, police officers entered the hospital and interrogated a Neapolitan woman, identified in the news media only by her first name, Silvana, immediately after the abortion and reportedly while she was still under the effects of anesthesia. They seized the aborted fetus.

Carmine Nappi, the chief of obstetrics at the hospital, likened the police intrusion to an anti-Mafia raid. “We’ve had countless complaints, we’re a hospital, but never a blitz like this,” he said by telephone on Thursday.

On Thursday evening, protesters gathered in several Italian cities. In Rome, a few hundred women and some men, many holding signs that read, “Silvana, we’re all with you,” stopped traffic in front of the Health Ministry. Ms. Turco praised the turnout. “We’re defending a law that is close to us,” she said.

On Friday, a group of women staged a sit-in in front of the Naples hospital.

An internal investigation at the hospital determined that the woman, 39, had terminated her pregnancy during the 21st week, within the 24-week limit set by the law, after tests disclosed that the fetus could have significant abnormalities.

I can hardly wrap my head around the concept that something like this actually happened.

Can you imagine? A woman undergoing an abortion at 21 weeks because of severe deformities to her fetus is very likely to be emotionally raw and fragile. And interrogating anyone directly after surgery while still under the effects of anesthesia is about as unethical as it gets. We don’t even treat the people that way when they are injured in the process of committing a crime and have to undergo surgery before arrest. If that did happen, a defense attorney would probably be highly successful in clearing charges or at least large portions of evidence based on police misconduct.

But apparently, it is acceptable to treat women this way when they’ve just undergone physically and emotionally painful surgery. To confiscate the fetus from a woman’s totally legal abortion as “evidence?” There aren’t even words — especially when it’s not uncommon in cases like these for women to hold, cremate and/or bury the fetus as part of the mourning process. There aren’t many bigger, brighter lines that one could cross.

But now that it has been brought up, I can easily see the unscrupulous likes of Phil Kline going after late-term abortion providers like Dr. Tiller in this manner. The nutty attorney general who wants to create public databases of women who have had abortions has probably been looking for just this kind of idea, and legal ways for him to go about it that won’t yet again result in his being kicked out of office. When it’s exceedingly common for the women who most wanted to give birth to be treated as the worst kind of baby-killer, I do indeed have trouble of putting this past the wingnuts.

It doesn’t surprise me to see a horrible case of misconduct like this exploited by the antis for political purposes:

In mid-December, Giuliano Ferrara, a conservative journalist close to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the center-right leader, began using his daily newspaper, Il Foglio, as a platform to support a universal moratorium on abortion. This week, he announced that he would run for Parliament as an independent in the April 13-14 elections on an anti-abortion ticket.

Critics of Mr. Ferrara’s campaign have accused him of trying to create fractures within the newly formed center-left Democratic Party, which has a sizable Roman Catholic component.

Center-left leaders have rejected calls to overturn the abortion law, which was upheld in a 1981 referendum after a battle with Italy’s Catholic establishment.

The law also includes provisions for family planning clinics and counseling for young women to avoid unplanned pregnancies. Many point to Health Ministry statistics to underscore the law’s effectiveness: In 2006, there were 130,000 terminated pregnancies in Italy, 44.6 percent fewer than in 1982, when 234,801 abortions were carried out.

Polls indicate that Mr. Berlusconi’s coalition will probably be the winner in the parliamentary elections, and some legislators allied with him are already calling for changes in the abortion law.

Good luck to you, Italian ladies. As we also work to keep the forced-birth proponents out of office in this country, you’ll be in my thoughts.