SAN MARINO (AP) — San Marino residents on Sunday voted overwhelmingly to legalize abortion, rejecting a 150-year-old law that had criminalized it and making the tiny republic the latest majority Catholic state to approve the procedure under certain circumstances.
Some 77% of voters approved a referendum proposal calling for abortion to be legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to official returns broadcast on San Marino RTV. Abortion would also be legal beyond that point if the woman’s life is in danger or if her physical or psychological health is at risk because of fetal anomalies or malformations.
With the "yes" votes winning, San Marino’s Parliament must now draft a bill to legalize the procedure. Turnout for the referendum was 41% in the microstate of 33,000 people surrounded by Italy.
San Marino, one of the world’s oldest republics, had been one of the last European states that still criminalized abortion. With Sunday's result, it now joins other predominantly Catholic states like Ireland, which legalized abortion in 2018 and neighboring Italy, where abortion has been legal since 1978. Abortion is still illegal in Malta and Andorra, and Poland introduced a near-total ban on the procedure this year.
The San Marino referendum was set after around 3,000 people signed a petition drive to overturn the microstate’s abortion law, which dates from 1865.
Women in San Marino seeking an abortion usually go to neighboring Italy for the procedure. But proponents of the referendum argued that put an undue financial burden on them and penalized women who got pregnant as a result of rape.
Sara Casadei of the "Noi Ci Siamo" campaign that pushed for a "Yes" vote in the referendum, was pleased with the outcome.
"We supported this for the simple reason that it seemed right that women have a choice and aren't forced to go somewhere else, but to have the services on our own territory," she said.
Dr. Maria Prassede Venturini, a pediatrician and representative of the "Welcome Life" campaign that backed a "No" vote, said her group would continue working for a "culture welcoming life" that focuses care on the "two main protagonists: the mother and child."
Opponents of the measure had argued that in San Marino, even minors can receive free contraception at pharmacies, including the morning-after pill. The Catholic Church had strongly opposed the measure.
In the buildup to the vote, the bishop of San Marino, Monsignor Andrea Turazzi, said the Catholic Church was "decidedly against" the decriminalization initiative, though he said the campaign had raised awareness about the need to provide better services and care, especially for mothers in need.
The Vatican firmly opposes abortion, holding that human life begins at conception and that all life must be protected from conception until natural death.
"For us, its inconceivable that a mother resorts to abortion because of some economic troubles," Turazzi told Vatican News.
Voter Federica Gatti said as she cast her ballot that a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy or not involves "several personal, religious and moral reasons," but that the state "must provide its citizens this opportunity."
Nicole Winfield reported from Rome.