The Italian Parliament today made another break from the traditional influence of the Roman Catholic church by approving an abortion bill that is one of the most liberal in Western Europe.
The passage of the bill in the Chamber of Deputies late today by a vote of 310 to 296 was a major victory for Italy's left wing and defeat for the ruling Christian Democrats.
The bill, nearly as liberal as abortion laws in the Scandinavian countries, next goes to the Senate where approval is expected despite a slightly weaker pro-abortion bloc.
The Italian measure allows women over to 16 choose abortion during the three months of pregnancy, with or without approval from a doctor, and legalize abortion after the first 90 days if the mother's ilfe is in danger or if there is reason to suspect that the fetus is deformed.
Another key clause gives state hospitals and Italy's 20 regional governments the financial and practical responsibility for all abortions. Abortion for minors is made fairly easy. In cases where parents disapprove, the final decision would rest with doctor rather than with the pregnant adolescent.
In the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled that abortions on demand are legal when the mother is less than 24 weeks pregnant.
Laws in Britain and West Germany require a doctor's approval for abortion and in France women can make their own decision up to the 10th week of pregnancy. Abortion is illegal in Belgium and the Netherlands.
The bill is the second abortion measure introduced in the Italian Parliament within the past year. The first sparked a bitter controversy that brought down the government and forced early elections last summer.Pro-abortion parties returned with enough seats to outvote the Christian Democratic government.
Passage of the abortion measure in the Chamber of Deputies was the third major defeat of this type since 1970 for the Christian Democrats and the Catholic Church, the official church in Italy.
In December 1970 a coalition of Italy's major "lay" parties - the Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Republicans and Liberals - voted a controversial divorce bill into law despite opposition from the Christian Democrats and the Vatican.
When that decision was ratified in a devisive nationwide referendum in May 1974 it became clear that the influence of the church in this tradionally Roman Catholic country was sharply on the wane.
Debate on the abortion bill, (an amalgamation) of eight different draft laws, began shortly before the Christmas holidays and resumed Tuesday in a climate of bitter division.
Both the Vatican and Italy's Christian Democrats are bitterly opposed to the bill on the ground that it is immoral.
A front-page article in today's issue of the Vatican daily, Osservatore Romano, condemned the speed with which Parliament was moving to approve the new law, described as "a law which rejects a moral principle such as that of the inviolability of human life from the time of its conception."
A last ditch anti-abortion campaign by the church had little effect. It included strong Christmas and New Year statements by the Pope, a day of prayer against abortion called by Cardinal Ugo Poletti of Rome, and a telegram to President Giovanni Leone from 30 Italian bishops.
Other opposition to the bill came the Radical Party whose four deputies voted against it on the ground it was too restrictive. The six representatives of the far-left Democratic Proletarian Party abstained on similar grounds.
Shifting public opinion on a once-taboo topic like abortion has been brought about in recent years by the small Radical Party which also spear-headed the divorce movement.
Italian women, who according to some statistics underwent more than a million illegal abortions a year - about the same number as live births. Radicals and feminists claimed that the now-repeated Fascist-period legislation providing prison terms for abortion and other "crimes against the integrity of the race" was unconstitutional.