Until May 1978, the Italian Penal Code of 1930 prohibited publicity on contraception and the performance of abortions, except when the life of the pregnant woman was threatened.

The new law was surprisingly liberal for 'Catholic' Italy and strongly opposed by Pope Paul VI and the Vatican. It allowed for any woman over 18 to have an abortion for health, social or financial reasons, within the first thirteen weeks of pregnancy.

She has to obtain a doctor’s certificate, then wait for at least seven days and undergo counselling. The law allows doctors to register as 'conscientious objectors' to refuse performing abortions on religious, moral or social grounds, and an estimated 70% have done so.

In 1978, when the law was approved, the Vatican immediately issued a warning that any person performing an abortion, and any woman obtaining an abortion would be excommunicated (banned from receiving the sacraments of the Church).

Abortion after thirteen weeks is permitted for foetal abnormality, and if the woman's life, or physical and mental health is endangered.

In May 1981, a referendum to repeal the law, was strongly supported by Pope John Paul 11 and the Vatican. To the dismay of the Vatican, the Italian people voted overwhelmingly to retain the liberal law.