Women’s rights activists are cheering after San Marino a tiny republic of 33,000 people nestled in central Italy became the latest Catholic state to legalize abortion, saying the overwhelming “yes” vote would bring the microstate into the 21st century.
Some 77% of the 14,384 votes cast Sunday favored making abortion legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion would also be legal beyond that point if the woman’s life is in danger or if her physical or psychological health is at risk because of fetal anomalies or malformations.
Only 41% of eligible voters cast ballots, but no quorum was necessary and in the end only 3,265 people voted “No."
Valentina Rossi, member of the Union of Sammarinese Women and a referendum promoter, said the result was “far beyond the most optimistic expectations.” She said it showed that individual voters were able to take a decision that the republic’s politicians had refused to take for decades even as neighboring Italy and other European countries made the procedure legal.
San Marino’s Parliament must now draft a bill to legalize the procedure, and proponents called for politicians to draft legislation that truly represents the will of the people to provide appropriate reproductive health services for all women.
“With this step we succeeded in demonstrating that citizens are for the most part with us, and that finally San Marino will have to provide an adequate law,” Rossi said. “At last!”
San Marino, one of the world’s oldest republics, had been one of the last European states that still criminalized abortion. With Sunday’s result, it now joins other predominantly Catholic states like Ireland, which legalized abortion in 2018, and San Marino's neighbor Italy, where abortion has been legal since 1978. Abortion is still illegal in Malta and Andorra, and Poland introduced a near-total ban on the procedure this year.
Giacomo Volpinari, a San Marino citizen, said the vote was historic and showed the power of a referendum to change course.
“Where politics couldn’t reach, it was the people who chose to get out from a medieval situation San Marino lived in for centuries and finally we can say we have a state in line with the rules and the needs of a modern society,” he said.
Women in San Marino seeking an abortion usually go to Italy for the procedure. But proponents of the referendum argued that put an undue financial burden on them and penalized women who got pregnant as a result of rape.
Opponents of the measure had argued that in San Marino, even minors can receive free contraception at pharmacies, including the morning-after pill. The Catholic Church had strongly opposed the measure. The Vatican holds that human life begins at conception and that all life must be protected from conception until natural death.
The bishop of San Marino, Monsignor Andrea Turazzi, had penned a heartfelt appeal Sunday to vote against the measure, saying “No ifs, ands or buts, we are in favor of welcoming life.”
“We believe that no woman faces abortion with a light heart; it’s always a tragedy," he said in a statement. “We don’t want to leave any stone unturned to find alternatives.”
Winfield reported from Rome.