FROM A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
ALL State hospitals and clinics in Italy will in future provide free information on birth control to any woman who requests it.
This was announced last week by the Italian Ministry of Health, after the country's highest judicial body, the Constitutional Court, had reversed laws which banned the sale of contraceptives and the dissemination of information on birth control.
The court's ruling has thus dealt a second serious blow to the relationship between the Government and the Vatican. The first was when the Divorce I.aw was passed by Parliament in December.
The Pope banned all artificial form of contraception in his 1968 Encyclical Humanae Vitae, and only last January asked his diplomatic representatives throughout the world tO do all they could to stop official birth control programmes.
Asked to comment on the Vatican's attitude to the latest ruling of the Constitutional Court, spokesman Federico Alessandrini said: "The Church's position about birth regulation is known. We have nothing to add. This is an Italian domestic matter."
Provisions of the 1930 Penal Code, passed in the days of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini were said by the court to conflict with the constitutional right of free speech.
The 1930 Code treated birth control propaganda in the same way as abortion and the spreading of venereal disease, making it a crime punishable with up to one year in jail.
The decision of the Constitutional Court came about when Luigi de Marchi, 43year-old father of a 'perfectlyplanned' family of two, was prosecuted for opening Rome's first birth control clinic. Secretary of the Italian Association for Demographic Education, he has campaigned in favour of birth control for years, and has had the support of officials of the Ministry of Health. He appealed to the highest court.
It is estimated that there are more than one million illegal abortions in Italy every year — the same number as live births — and this is put down to lack of information on birth control. It is believed that about 30,000 women die each year as a result of such operations.
This would make the death toll since the 1930 laws more than one million, which exceeds the number of Italian soldiers killed in two World Wars.
The ruling made by the Constitutional Court does not alter the position of abortion as a crime. And birth control propaganda will only be free as long as it does not violate obscenity laws, and does not advocate devices which legislators may decide are harmful to health.
THE NEXT TARGET Dr. Marchi said that one of his next targets will be to have the abortion laws liberalised.
Ile said that if it had not been for back-street abortionists during the past forty years, Italy would have been overrun by now. With a population of 54 million, Italy is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Advocates of birth control said that the big problem, now that the law had been changed, would he to train Italian doctors in birth control practices. The 1930 law had stifled all teaching on the subject in universities, and only a few doctors had kept themselves informed by reading foreign medical publications.
The decision of the Constitutional Court particularly pleases the recently-formed 'Feminine Liberation Front,' which has called on the Government to make contraceptives freely available to Italian women.