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‘It’s not that we had the recipe in our pocket!’ An analysis of the feminist movement and the ‘becoming legal’ of abortion in 1970s Italy

Caruso, Elena (2023) ‘It’s not that we had the recipe in our pocket!’ An analysis of the feminist movement and the ‘becoming legal’ of abortion in 1970s Italy. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.102933) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:102933)

Language: English

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On 18 May 1978, a few days after the Red Brigades murdered former Prime Minister and President of Christian Democracy Aldo Moro, the Italian Parliament definitively approved Law 194, which repealed previous Fascist-era anti-abortion laws and legalised abortion under certain circumstances. At that time, ultra-conservative and Catholic politicians occupied the greatest offices of the state, including the Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti, who was also a personal friend of Pope Paul VI. Through Law 194/1978, Italy became one of the first countries in the Western world to have a liberal abortion reform in the post-Second World War period. This important achievement followed years of feminist struggle yet happened in the middle of one of the most difficult pages of Italian contemporary history.

This is the first detailed study of the feminist abortion campaigns and the reform of abortion laws in Italy between 1971 and 1981. By drawing on a vast and rich range of archival documents and qualitative interviews, I offer an original exploration of how the feminist movement influenced, and how it was influenced by, the 'becoming legal' of abortion in 1970s Italy. I do so by considering the 'social decriminalisation' of abortion while Fascist anti-abortion laws were still formally valid; the run-up to the parliamentary debate preceding the approval of Law 194/1978; and the immediate phase of implementation of the new law and its defence from the risk of repeal during the abortion referenda of 1981. I demonstrate two main points. First, I show that the feminist struggle for abortion experienced a significant change from the widespread radical positions regarding feminist liberation of the early 1970s to a more pragmatic and realistic politics of reform especially in the early 1980s. Second, I demonstrate that the feminist movement contributed to changing the regulation of abortion from a model of almost complete prohibition, under the Fascist-era anti-abortion laws, to one of hyper-regulation of abortion, through the approval of Law 194/1978.

In doing so, I aim to make a significant scholarly contribution on three fronts. Firstly, building upon recent feminist and socio-legal scholarship, I try to enhance the concept of 'becoming legal', shedding light on the subtle nuances of legal reform processes and the important role that informal campaign groups played in shaping legal meanings regarding abortion over the course of a decade. Secondly, I seek to fill notable gaps in the history of abortion and Italian feminism by being the first to comprehensively explore the feminist abortion campaigns in this period. Lastly, I intend to offer the first substantial examination of the role of the law in shaping the history of a grassroots feminist movement, paving the way for a new line of inquiry at the intersections of socio-legal studies, feminist history, and social movement scholarship.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Sheldon, Sally
Thesis advisor: McCandless, Julie
Thesis advisor: Drakopoulou, Maria
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.102933
Uncontrolled keywords: Law, Abortion, Social movements, Legal Change, History, Socio-legal Studies, Becoming Legal, Italy, Feminism, 1970s, Archive, Qualitative Interviews, Oral History
Subjects: K Law
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Kent Law School
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2023 09:10 UTC
Last Modified: 04 May 2024 03:17 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Caruso, Elena.

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