When, on the morning of Sunday, June 11, her parish priest read aloud the new anti-abortion pronouncement of Italy's bishops, 19-year-old Vanna, who was five weeks pregnant and single almost changed her mind about taking advantage of Italy's new abortion law.
Vanna (not her real name), who lives in the small town of Rieti, 47 miles north of Rome, discovered she was pregnant in late May. Because of the new bill passed May 18 she was not as worried as she might have been weeks earlier when abortion was a crime in Catholic Italy and back-alley practitioners were a girl's best friend.
The new law, described as one of the most liberal in Western Europe, ended years of political and social controversy by guaranteeing free abortions to women over 18 during the first three months of pregnancy.
It gave Vanna, a high school senior who lives at home with he unsuspecting parents, the comfort of knowing that she would be able to terminate her unwanted pregnancy legally.
"But what I didn't know," said Vanna, "was what a hassle it would turn out to be."
A practicing Catholic, Vanna was well aware that the Roman Catholic Church is strongly opposed to abortion and that Italy's bishops have spoken out on the subject at least 30 times in the last six years.
But, she said, she somehow didn't expect the ferocious anti-abortion campaign that followed the law's going into effect June 5.
The strong church reaction involves threats of excommunication from Popel Paul VI himself, calls by highranking bishops for a massive conscientious objection campaign by Catholic hospital personnel, and a decision to withdraw nuns from hospitals and clinics where abortions are performed.
The church's recent activity is seen as a last-ditch attempt to thwart the new law while avoiding a divisive popular referendum that, polls indicate, the groups favoring abortion would now probably win.
A burgeoning "right-to-life" movement backed by the church has threatened to sponsor a referendum. But clergy here are reluctant since the last comparable test, in 1974 on divorce, showed only 40 percent of Italians willing to follow the church's lead.
The alternative, moral pressure and threat of canon law sanctions, has however, led some Italian politicians to accuse the Vatican of interfering in the affairs of the Italian state and seeking to sabotage the new law.
The new law allows doctors and other hospital personnel to invoke conscientious objections and refuse to perform abortions or participate in their performance.
But, says Sen. Raniero La Valle, who was elected to the office as an independent on the Communist ticket, "By saying that conscienious objection is obligatory and threatening sanctions the church is setting itself up as one power against another, the state."
Vanna said the church's warnings increased her feelings of guilt and anguish, but in the end she decided to go ahead with her plans.
"I don't want a child now, nor do I want the stigma of being an unmarried mother", she says. "I know I'm committing a sin but somehow I feel that God understands, even if the Pope doesn't".
The Church's position is making it more difficult - practically as well as psychologically - for Vanna, and others like her to have the abortions they are legally entitled to.
Until early July it will impossible to know just how many doctors, anesthetists, midwives, nurses and order-lies will actually take advantage of the law's conscientious objection clause but at the moment, the outlook for Italian women with unwanted pregnancies does not look good.
The Italian doctor's association has said that it will reject all forms of external pressure. But according to current reports, thousands of Italian doctors, possibly a majority of those employed by Italy's state hospitals or by the private clinics authorized to perform abortions, are planning to say "No".
Given the fact that as many as 800,000 women are estimated to have illegal abortions here each year, the sudden aversion to abortion by so many doctors is hard to explain. According to Dr. Raffaele Bolognesi, president of the Doctors' Association of Rome Province, as much as 90 percent of the area's doctors may conscientiously object.
The percentage is even higher in some of Italy's smaller cities. In Campobasso, in the Italian south, the Cardarelli' hospital where all four gynecologists have so far said "no", is the only public hospital in town.
"This means that the law will fall to serve its major purpose, that of eliminating the country's flourishing black market abortion industry", said one angry feminist.
Women's groups here, in fact, are deeply dissatisfied with the new law which forbids doctors to perofrm abortions in their private offices and in order to prevent the establishment of abortion clinics, limits the number of abortions performed in private hospitals to a maximum of 20 percent of all surgical operations.
Moreover few hospitals here appear to have made any preparations, so much-needed equipment like that used in the aspiration method will now take months to order.
When Vanna, who can't afford a private clinic and doesn't want anyone in Rieti to know about her plight, showed up at a Rome hospital last week, she found total chaos. A small room generally used as a storeroom had been put aside for the preliminary examination required by the new law.
"But no one seemed to have any idea of the procedures involved", she says.
In the end, Vanna took the advice of a feministe organization and decided to try one of the local medical offices which were set up in all Italian cities several years ago and which are now to be used as part of the new abortion machine. The doctor in attendance examined here, confirmed her pregnancy, and after listening to the social, economic, health and psychological reasons why she cannot have her child asked her - as provided by the law - to reflect for another seven days.