Lawmakers across Europe have already called for action in response to openDemocracy’s global investigation. “Every politician”, said Neil Datta, secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, should be concerned about “disinformation, emotional manipulation and outright deceit”.
In Italy, Michele Usuelli, a doctor and Lombardy regional councillor pledged to look into these centres’ activities immediately and ask hospital directors how they ensure that women receive accurate information inside their facilities.
Giuditta Pini, a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, said she will also discuss these findings with other lawmakers in Rome. She said that they reflect “an organised system on the international level with the explicit goal of weakening women’s rights, their health and their personal freedom”.
When I showed the booklet I received in Benevento to Silvana Agatone, president of the LAIGA association of doctors that support access to safe abortion, she called it “deceptive” and a “manipulation of information with no serious scientific basis”.
Silvio Viale, a gynecologist at the hospital Sant’Anna in Turin and a well-known member of the Radical Party, similarly denounced this information as “a hoax”.
Feminist activists from the Non Una Di Meno (‘Not One [Woman] Less’) movement in Milan condemned these centres’ for “blaming and humilating women who have abortions” – and called for “more checks in the gynaecology ward so that women do not suffer abuse from people who feel they have the right to judge them”.
“This is an abuse of power and an abuse of trust,” added Irene Donadio, head of partnerships and strategy at the International Planned Parenthood Federation in Europe, demanding “immediate action from the government”.
Outnumbering abortion providers
There are thousands of anti-abortion ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ in the US, where they outnumber the hospitals, clinics and physician’s offices that provide abortions. Now, openDemocracy can reveal a similar trend in Italy.
According to 2017 data from the Ministry of Health, there are only 381 public or private health facilities that provide abortions nationwide. Meanwhile there are more than 400 anti-abortion centres in Movimento per la Vita’s network.
Heartbeat says on its website that all of these Italian anti-abortion centres are also its “affiliates”. The US group has additionally given Movimento per la Vita at least $80,000 in grants, according to its financial filings that say this money was supposed to train and support their “common affiliates”.
Today Heartbeat describes itself as a “non-profit federation” of diverse affiliates that must follow “basic principles”, and commit for example to accuracy in their information and advertising, but are otherwise autonomous.
Movimento per la Vita similarly describes itself as a federation of autonomous centres that are run by local volunteers, for which it provides “services and… continuing education, to ensure competence, sensitivity, diligence.”
However, the Italian group told openDemocracy that its centres are not “affiliated to Heartbeat” though they share a vision for society “in which abortion is unthinkable” and a “collaboration agreement” that supports volunteer training.Print