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Italy's Referendum on Assisted Fertility Fails

A low voter turnout in Italy invalidated a referendum on the law regulating assisted fertility. Catholics expressed satisfaction at the result. The vote had been seen as a test of how much influence the Catholic Church still has on Italian voters.

Italy's law on assisted fertility will not be relaxed. A low voter turnout invalidated the referendum. A 50-percent voter turnout was needed for the poll to be valid, but only about 25 percent of Italian voters cast their ballots over two days.

It became clear on the first day of voting that the number of voters needed would not be reached. Less than 19-percent cast their ballots on Sunday.

The turnout was affected by both a call for a boycott made by the Catholic Church as well as voter apathy. Italian bishops, with the backing of Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, told Italians to boycott the vote on moral grounds.

The Catholic Church waged a fierce campaign to maintain the limitations currently envisioned by the law on assisted fertility. The law bans the use of donor sperm or eggs from outside the couple, and does not allow screening, freezing or research on embryos.

Italian politicians from the right and left had reacted differently to the vote, with most telling Italians to decide according to their consciences. Some were seen casting their ballots, others said clearly they were not going to vote.

Piero Fassino, of the Left Democrats party was disappointed with the result.

He says "it's a vote we do not consider satisfactory. The majority of the electors clearly thought that the subject matter was too complicated and difficult, and, therefore, they felt it was better not to vote. We need to reflect on the result."

A child flanked by a woman pushes a toy baby trolley as she passes by a poster promoting a yes vote
Until the present law on assisted fertility came into effect last year, Italy was known as the Wild West for fertility treatment because of its permissive laws. Today, it has one of the toughest laws on the subject in Europe.

Italy has one of Europe's lowest birth rates. Reasons for this include the lack of economic and job security. In addition, as in many other Western countries, many couples have increasing problems of infertility. Since the law was approved, the number of couples seeking help abroad has tripled.

Emma Bonino, of Italy's Radical Party, campaigned for change. She says Italians will have no option, but to continue to travel elsewhere for treatment that is not permitted in Italy.

"The fact is that it exist worldwide, their use," she says. "Therapists that can solve problems of infertility, sterility or transmission of genetic illness, and that all these techniques will be forbidden for Italian citizens in Italy. They, of course, can take a flight. They can go to Madrid, to Malta, to Slovenia, to Switzerland and etc., but that will be forbidden in this country."

Some politicians said the result of the referendum does not mean that some changes will not be made to the law. They say that, if legislators feel that amendments are necessary, these will come in time.