Rome, Italy, May 22, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- The Italian March for Life was held Saturday as thousands of people from Italy and around the world rallied and marched one mile through the center of Rome to protest legal abortion and to support the pro-life cause.
But forty-one years after the legalization of abortion in Italy, some members of the pro-life movement in the country look to the United States as an example of the fight that lies before them – and the progress that can be made in more than forty years of marching for life.
The Italian “Marcia per la Vita” was itself modelled after the U.S. March for Life in Washington, D.C., which is now in its 45th year; but March organizer Virginia Coda Nunziante said Italy seems to be much further from the possibility of overturning its abortion law.
Italy’s “law 194,” established in 1978, made abortion legal for any reason within the first 90 days of pregnancy, and afterward for certain reasons with the referral of a physician. Since abortion’s legalization in Italy, it is estimated more than 6 million children have been aborted.
Nunziante referenced the Alabama’s law outlawing abortion in her final remarks at the March for Life May 18.
She called it a “first step” reached only after more than 40 years of dedication to the cause, and encouraged March participants to take energy from this fact to keep fighting the “great moral and civil battle” and to grow in determination “not to retreat” from the defense of innocent human life.
In comments to EWTN News, Nunziante said that “unfortunately, we’re not so close” to overturning legalized abortion in Italy, and that she sees part of the challenge to be the influence legal abortion has had on the culture.
“The law really enters in the minds of people, and especially young people,” she said, “so this is the reason why we want to have the March and we want to keep the debate on the social and political level.”
Nunziante, who has participated in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. several times, said she started the Italian version because she saw the impact of the U.S. March on encouraging a culture of life, especially among young people.
The March for Life in D.C. was also the inspiration behind the start of the Italian University Students for Life.
Chiara Chiessi, a student in Rome and the president of “Universitari Per La Vita,” said she was moved by the size of the pro-life demonstration in D.C. when she attended in 2016 and was struck particularly by the large participation of young people.
She told EWTN News that despite Italy’s strong cultural Catholicism, she finds the environment to be largely unsupportive of their group’s pro-life efforts.
“It is very, very difficult, because I think there is a crisis of faith,” Chiessi said, “so people don’t have the courage to show the reality of facts…” She also noted a lack of support from university chaplains in some cases.
Chiessi explained that praying or protesting outside abortion clinics, a common practice of some American pro-lifers, is only just beginning to take place in Italy, and culturally, she thinks many Italians are embarrassed to make such public demonstrations for the pro-life cause.
“It is not very, very easy, but we know that we have to go forward and not have fear about that,” she said.
Nunziante also noted a resistance among many Catholics in Italy to “go into the public square.”
She recalled the fear this generated when they first started the March for Life. But hearing Benedict XVI tell the U.S. bishops in November 2011 that Catholics should bring their voice to the public square encouraged them.
“So, we understood that it was the right moment to do this, so even if it is an effort, we have to do it,” she said.
Meanwhile, the March for Life in Italy continues to grow each year, with views towards leveraging international participation so “that Rome and the Roman March can become a hub for the whole world,” Nunziante said.
Home to the Vatican, “Rome is the capital of the Catholic world,” she argued. “So, I think that people from all the other countries, who are engaged in the pro-life movement, are very interested in being in Rome, because from Rome you can give a voice to the whole world.”