Italian Constitutional Court Cancels the Prohibition against Heterologous Artificial Insemination

The Constitutional Court has canceled Law 40, passed in 2004 by the government of Silvio Berlusconi, which banned heterologous artificial insemination.

On April 9, 2014, the Constitutional Court canceled the Italian law passed in 2004 (Law 40) outlawing heterologous artificial insemination. With the passage of Law 40 a decade ago, the government of Silvio Berlusconi permitted only homologous insemination, which was a move intended to please the Catholic Church. The Radical Party promoted a referendum with the aim of abrogating the law, but this referendum failed to achieve quorum, which in Italian law requires the casting of votes by at least 50% of voters. Many priests encouraged Catholics to abstain from voting. In 10 years, thanks to the judges, everything has changed. Step by step, the courts have dismantled the law, considering it too restrictive and in violation of the freedoms of those couples in need of other help to have children. Now, after the decision of the Constitutional Court, heterologous artificial insemination is permitted. In just over three weeks, many couples have applied for access to the procedure: the roughly twenty private centers that guarantee artificial insemination procedures have already received 3,400 requests for heterologous insemination. In the past, couples turned to foreign centers, most of which were in Spain, Switzerland, or Belgium - all counties with more liberal legislation than Italy. According to the Italian private centers, the number of Italian couples requesting the procedure will soon surpass 10,000.

It is not yet clear how public hospitals are going to manage the situation. Some say that a Ministerial regulation is required in order to permit heterologous artificial insemination in public centers, which would mean such procedures would be free. Others, however, assert that the decision of the Constitutional Court already permits that. It is thus necessary to have a new law for stating the guidelines, a law that will be the outcome of a hard mediation between the center-left and center-right parties, which govern together in Italy. On this subject, and in general on the rights connected to procreation, Italians are deeply divided. It suffices to say that, in many public health centers, a woman who wants to have an abortion legally could face difficulties simply because many physicians are conscientious objectors and would refuse to perform the operation.