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Italian senate passes controversial fertility bill

December 12, 2003

ROME — Italy's senate on Thursday passed a landmark bill which will bar gay couples and single women from having access to artificial insemination after a divisive debate which pitted outraged liberals against conservative Roman Catholics.

The senate passed the bill by 169 votes to 90 and the legislation will now be sent back to the lower house Chamber of Deputies for minor adjustments but the text will essentially remain unchanged before becoming law, officials said.

The law bans heterogeneous insemination, or insemination by a third party outside a couple.

It will put insemination beyond the legal reach of single women and homosexual couples, as well as banning women from becoming pregnant using the sperm of a deceased partner.

The debate divided the centre-right government and the opposition centre-left alike, and saw members of both voting with the other, sparking deep recriminations in particular inside Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's ruling House of Freedoms coalition.

The bill will limit a woman's chance of pregnancy through artificial insemination to three embryos, each of which must be implanted in the womb, contrary to the practice elsewhere in Europe where the fertilised embryo can be kept in cold storage.

Italy is the only country in Europe to ban third-party insemination, contrary to practice in Spain, Britain, Germany and Austria.

Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Italy's World War II dictator, said she would organise a petition to have the legislation repealed.

In a reference to the plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, Deputy foreign minister Margherita Boniver blasted the legislation as "a Burqah law".

"It's monstrous," said Boniver, a member of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.

"It has aspect which resemble a horror film," she said, adding that women undergoing fertility treatment who found themselves implanted with "possibly deformed embryos have no choice but to accept it and then have an abortion".

"I am stunned that serious members of a majority can accept such a monstrous," she added.

Italy's Catholic bishops blasted what they called "anti-clericalism, free-masonry, liberalism, bad faith, ignorance and economic interests" of the legislation's opponents.

They condemned "the enraged and superficial attacks against the Catholic world". –Sapa-AFP



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