Abortions could be next target as Italy restricts test tube babies

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The Independent Online

Italy's parliament has passed what is being called the most restrictive law on artificial fertilisation in Europe, banning the use of donor sperm, eggs and surrogate mothers.

With support from many members of the centre-left opposition, as well as most of Silvio Berlusconi's House of Liberties centre-right coalition, the new law adopted this week restricts artificial fertilisation to stable heterosexual couples.

Only infertile couples will be allowed to apply for artificial insemination and they will have to prove they are married or in a stable relationship. Doctors can create a maximum of three embryos at each attempt - not enough, some specialists say - to give a realistic chance of success - and it will be illegal to freeze them or use them in research.

The passing of the Bill in the Senate by a majority of 79, described by someone as "the ideal Christmas present for the Pope", marked a dramatic recapturing of the social agenda by traditionally minded Catholics more than 10 years after the collapse of the Christian Democrats.

Politicians on both right and left saw the Bill's success as setting the scene for a bid to make abortion illegal, although it is already tightly restricted.

Elisabetta Alberti Castelli, a senator with Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, said: "This law says 'enough' to the abuses and recognises that an embryo is a person and as such must be protected from the point of conception."

Giulio Andreotti, seven times Prime Minister for the Christian Democrats and now a senator for life, said: "This law recognises an embryo's legal rights. I don't understand why it can be killed for up to four months."

The Bill's big majority was thanks to cross-bench support from many members of the Margherita party, the second-biggest opposition group and a crucial member of the opposition's Olive coalition. The result, and particularly the Margherita's part in it, dismayed many Italian liberals.

Fabrizio Rondolino wrote in La Stampa: "It is a step backwards with regard to the common sense of morality and justice in our country." The law, he added: "neither eliminates for regulates the problem, but hides it under the carpet of the elite's drawing room". People who want to take advantage of advanced fertility techniques to have a baby, he said: "will merely have to pay, and to go abroad". But the leader of the Margherita party, Francesco Rutelli, passionately defended his decision to support the Bill. "Liberalism applied to science and genetics risks producing monsters," he said. "This is not a question of defending a frontier of liberty, but on the contrary of approving a false liberalisation ... There are questions on which politics must make crucial choices in the coming decades. We are playing with the power of genetics, a formidable weapon.

"The law must regulate. Until now, Italy has been the Wild West. In theory, everything is possible, wombs for rent, mummy-grannies, conception post-mortem, even cloning. Politics had washed its hands of the problem. What is progressive about that?"

An Italian fertility specialist, Severino Antonori, is a leader in the attempt to clone a human baby.