The tiny state of San Marino voted Sunday to allow abortion in a historic referendum result that will bring the predominantly Catholic nation in line with most of the rest of Europe.
About 77.3 percent of voters approved a motion to allow termination of a pregnancy up to 12 weeks.
After that, abortion would only be allowed if the mother’s life was in danger or in the case of fetal abnormalities that could harm the woman physically or psychologically.
The picturesque republic of San Marino, situated on a mountainside in central Italy, is one of the last places in Europe along with Malta, Andorra and the Vatican to have a total ban on abortion.
In traditionally Catholic Ireland, abortion was legalized in 2018, also after a referendum.
There were celebrations in Sunday’s result among members of the San Marino Women’s Union (UDS), which had started the referendum and campaigned for a “Yes” vote against the ruling party and the Catholic Church.
“It is a victory for all the women of San Marino, over the conservatives and reactionaries who believe that women have no rights,” UDS president Karen Pruccoli told AFP.
“It is a victory against the Catholic Church who were our opponents and they tried everything to avoid this result.”
More than 35,000 people were eligible to vote in Sunday’s referendum, about a third of them abroad. The turnout was 41 percent, about 14,500 people.
‘Respect the result’
In the absence of opinion polls, no one had wanted to predict the outcome in a country where the influence of the Church remains strong.
Pope Francis reiterated last week his uncompromising position that abortion is “murder.”
The campaign to vote “No” on Sunday was led by the ruling Christian Democratic Party, which has close ties to the Catholic Church.
“It is a defeat for a country that has always defended life,” the party’s undersecretary, Manuel Ciavatta, told AFP after the result.
But he said the government would propose a law within six months to implement the abortion change, which would then be submitted to parliament.
“We respect the voice of the voters,” she said, adding: “Our party will do everything possible to help women make sure they are not left alone.”
Currently, abortion carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for the woman and six years for the doctor who performs the procedure.
However, no one has ever been convicted.
Women who opt for an abortion often cross into Italy, where it has been legal for more than 40 years.
Before the result arrived, Francesca Nicolini, a 60-year-old doctor and member of the UDS, had argued: “Most of the young people are on our side, because it is an issue that directly affects their lives.
“It is unacceptable to view women who are forced to have an abortion as criminals.”
The vote marks a sea change for San Marino, where the ban dates back to 1865 and was confirmed both by the fascist regime in the early 20th century and again in 1974.
Figures from Italy suggest few women from the small state cross the border to take advantage of abortion laws there.
Between 2005 and 2019, only about 20 women a year from San Marino had abortions in Italy, falling to 12 in 2018 and seven in 2019, according to official Istat data cited by anti-abortion activists.
This is still too much for opponents like Rocco Gugliotta, a 41-year-old warehouse worker, who asked, “Why should mother alone decide?”
However, Alfiero Vagnini, a 65-year-old cook, was among the “Yes” voters, explaining: “On many issues, San Marino is behind. We need to become a more modern country. “