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France and US push back against Italy over G7 abortion stance

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
France and US push back against Italy over G7 abortion stance
French President Emmanuel Macron at the G7 summit in Fasano, southern Italy. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

France and the US have pushed back against a reported attempt by Italy to water down a G7 leaders’ declaration on abortion by removing a reference to ‘safe and legal’ terminations.

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Diplomatic sources said host Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has been trying to row back language in the G7 statement from Japan last year, much to the irritation of her fellow Group of Seven leaders.

US President Joe Biden “felt very strongly that we needed to have at the very least the language that references what we did in Hiroshima on women’s health and reproductive rights”, an unnamed senior US administration official said, referring to the Japanese city that hosted the last G7 leaders' gathering.

“The communique will reiterate the commitment made in Hiroshima,” the official said.

Later, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed regret at Italy’s position on abortion.

When asked about the row by an Italian journalist, he noted the French parliament’s vote earlier this year to enshrine the right of abortion in his country's constitution.

“These are not the same sensitivities that there are in your country today... I regret that but I respect it, because it was the sovereign choice of your people,” he said.

Meloni’s office denies abortion rights have been slashed from the draft final summit statement, saying negotiations are ongoing with Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the US.

On Wednesday, a source close to the negotiations told AFP that since 2021 there has “been a mention of ‘safe access’” in the G7 leaders’ statement, but “Meloni doesn't want it”.

“She’s the only one, she’s isolated on the issue. But since it’s the host country, the others have decided not to make it a casus belli,” the source said, using the Latin term for an act that provokes a war.

“So it won’t come back in the text,” the source added.

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Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told Sky TG24 Thursday that it was ‘premature’ to comment as “the different delegations are (still) negotiating”.

Last year’s G7 leaders’ statement, after a summit in Japan, expressed ‘strong concern’ about the rollback of women’s rights.

It also committed to sexual and reproductive health rights for all, ‘including by addressing access to safe and legal abortion and post abortion care’.

This year’s final document is not expected to be published until late on Friday.

France and Canada are particularly frustrated, as they had been pushing to strengthen abortion rights, according Italy’s Domani newspaper.

After the French vote earlier this year, Macron said the right to abortion should be protected in the EU’s rights charter.

Abortion is also a hot topic in the United States, where President Joe Biden has been railing against curbs on abortion implemented in conservative states.

An Italian presidency source Wednesday denied the mention of ‘safe access’ had already been cut.

“No state has asked to eliminate the reference to issues relating to abortion from the draft conclusions of the G7 summit... at a stage in which the negotiations are still ongoing,” a presidency source said.

Meloni, a self-described ‘Christian mother’ who came to power in 2022, has been accused by rights activists of attempting to make it more difficult to terminate pregnancies in Italy.

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Although abortion has been legal in the Catholic-majority country since 1978, accessing one is challenging due to the high percentage of gynaecologists who refuse to perform them on moral or religious grounds.

In April, the Italian parliament passed a measure by Meloni’s hard-right government coalition allowing anti-abortion activists to enter consultation clinics, sparking outrage from opposition parties.

Francesco Lollobrigida, Italy’s agriculture minister and Meloni’s brother-in-law, questioned whether it was ‘opportune’ for the G7 to have a statement supporting abortion rights, with Pope Francis in attendance.

Francis is head of the Catholic Church, which firmly condemns abortion. He will be at the summit on Friday as Meloni’s guest but is not part of the G7.

Elly Schlein, the leader of Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD), accused Meloni of undermining Italy on the international stage by casting doubt on a ‘fundamental right’.

“We have no use for a female premier who does not defend the rights of all other women in this country,” she said, slamming the G7 abortion row ‘a national disgrace’.

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