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Italy Adopts New Restrictive Reproductive Rights Law - 2003-12-11

After years of debate, Italy's center-right government has managed to push through parliament a new restrictive law on reproductive rights. Under the new law, such practices as donating sperm or eggs and surrogate motherhood will be banned. Only established couples will be able to use modern technology to help them have a baby, and only using biological inputs from themselves.

Members of Italy's government praised the approval of the new legislation, which they say brings an end to what they call "Far West" practices used to help women have babies.

The bill was approved Thursday by a wide margin in the upper house of the Italian parliament, with many opposition deputies joining the ruling coalition in voting in favor of the proposal. Supporters say Italy finally has a law that protects the embryo and guarantees a child's right to know who his or her parents are.

The new legislation is among the most restrictive in Europe, and is believed to be result of the strong influence the Catholic Church exerts in Italy on issues affecting the family and reproduction.

Liberals are outraged at what they see as severe restrictions on the rights of women. Critics denounced the new legislation as medieval, and said the move could be a prelude to an effort to make abortion illegal in Italy. Many complained that the bill will force thousands of couples who can afford it to travel abroad to seek treatment, while others who cannot afford to go outside the country will not be able to get the services at all.

The bill allows assisted reproduction only to infertile married couples or those who can provide evidence of living together in a stable manner. Homosexual couples and single women will not be able to have artificial insemination in Italy.

The use of sperm or eggs of a donor are banned as is turning to a surrogate mother. Italy becomes the only country in Europe to have such restrictions.

The bill also bans the freezing of embryos resulting from artificial insemination or their use for research purposes. Doctors will only be able to fertilize and implant up to three embryos at a time. And the new law bans examining an embryo for malformation before it is implanted.