Home News Fierce debate breaks out at G7, this time over abortion rights

Fierce debate breaks out at G7, this time over abortion rights

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The Group of Seven leaders had a lot to discuss, and a lot to disagree about, at their annual meeting in Italy. Two major wars in Gaza and Ukraine. A huge loan for Ukraine. And then there was abortion rights.

Officials familiar with the negotiations over the final G7 communique, essentially a statement agreed to by all the leaders, said the language on reproductive rights ended up being a diplomatic tug-of-war, mostly between the United States and Italy, the host of the meeting.

Several officials said the dispute centred on a request by Prime Minister Giorgia Meroni not to include the words “abortion” and “reproductive rights” in the statement. The Italian government has denied it was deliberately backing away from its pledge to protect the right to safe abortion.

When told of Ms. Meloni’s position, Mr. Biden pushed back, seeking to include an explicit reference to reproductive rights in the communique and at least reiterate support for abortion rights in last year’s communique, U.S. officials said. Several other G7 members agreed with Mr. Biden, according to U.S. and European officials briefed on the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate negotiations.

Finally, the word “abortion” did not appear in the communique, but the communique quoted the final statement of last year’s G7 summit in Japan, saying, “We reaffirm the commitments made in the Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué to achieve universal access to adequate, affordable and quality health services for women, including comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.”

The Hiroshima Statement specifically mentions “addressing the issue of safe, legal abortion and post-abortion care.”

The issue has long been a thorny one for Biden, who is Catholic, both personally and politically. But he has become more vocal in his defense of abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, a move that overturned the constitutional right to abortion and set off a wave of abortion restrictions in more than 20 states.

Biden has sharply criticized the court’s decision and used it to energize key voting groups as he seeks re-election.

For Meloni, taking a stance on abortion is a way to please some conservative voters and perhaps Pope Francis, who attended the summit to discuss the impact of artificial intelligence at Meloni’s invitation. It’s also consistent with her usual governing style, analysts said.

She tends to stick to conservative beliefs when fighting the culture war at home, but takes a pro-Western stance when dealing with international issues. For example, she strongly supports Western support for Ukraine against Russia.

“She has mainstream positions on important issues on the international stage,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, an Italian political scientist. He said being conservative on abortion “lost her nothing abroad” but made some of her voters happy at home.

When Biden learned from his staff last week that reproductive rights might not appear in the communique, he instructed his team not to let that happen or he would not sign the document, according to U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.

In a statement sent to news organizations on Thursday, Melloni said she was not seeking to backtrack on guarantees of safe and legal abortion, but that “in order to avoid repetition” the summit’s concluding statement could only refer to previous joint communiqués.

Asked about repeated media reports that she had tried to exclude the issue of “abortion” from the communique, Ms. Meloni said on Friday ahead of a bilateral meeting with Biden: “I am not aware of any intention to discuss that topic. I can tell you that the G7 communique will be adopted by consensus of all G7 countries.”

When asked by an Italian journalist on Thursday about the removal of language supporting abortion rights, French President Emmanuel Macron, two weeks before a snap election with a far-right party, said he “regretted” it.

“You know where France stands,” Macron said. “The French constitution has enshrined women’s right to abortion and freedom to control their own bodies.”

“You don’t feel the same way in your country anymore today,” he said.

“It is profoundly wrong to use such a valuable forum as the G7 to conduct campaign activities,” Melloni said in a statement Thursday, without saying who she was referring to.

A senior EU official said in an interview that the EU supported using all of the Hiroshima communique language, including on abortion rights. But he said leaders failed to reach agreement, resulting in a statement that mentioned support for sexual and reproductive rights but did not explicitly mention abortion rights.

The final communique mirrored pre-Hiroshima G7 statements, such as a 2021 statement that more broadly supported “sexual and reproductive health.”

On a personal level, Biden and Melloni appear to have a good relationship since Melloni’s election, despite their different positions on social issues.

Mr. Biden Expressing concern In 2022, the two leaders spoke about her far-right party politics Demonstrating a strong alliance About Ukraine. The last time she visited the White House In March, Biden said the two agreed “we have each other’s backs” and kissed her on the forehead.

Despite her anti-abortion sentiments, Meroni has pledged not to overturn Italy’s abortion law, which legalizes abortion, a procedure that is generally not controversial in Italy. Trying to please her conservative base Rather than making radical changes, the House of Representatives emphasized abortion “prevention” in legislation passed in April and vowed to do everything it could to “help women who feel abortion is their only way out.”

Italy’s 1978 law legalizing abortion also emphasizes helping women avoid ending pregnancies because of financial, social or family difficulties, and Ms. Meroni said parts of the law have not been fully implemented. The new law proposed by Ms. Meroni’s party has been criticized for concerns that it could encourage anti-abortion groups to campaign in family counseling centers.

Ms Merloni also vowed to make surrogacy a universal criminalisation. Surrogacy is already illegal in Italy but under the proposal it could be punishable even if it takes place abroad.

On Friday, some abortion rights supporters in Italy spoke out against removing the word from the final communique.

“It is a shame that this puts our country in the shoes of a most dubious regime,” said Laura Boldrini, an Italian Democratic Party lawmaker. Written on X.

Others expressed support, or at least understanding, for Ms. Meloni’s stance.

“She’s doing a good job,” said Giorgio Celsi, an anti-abortion activist in the northern Italian town of Besana. He said Ms. Merloni’s party “has pro-choice voters.” “She has to take that into account.”

Steven Erlanger Reporting from Bari, Italy, Aurelien Brittain From Paris.

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