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Italy votes on divisive fertility issues.

Italy's emotional battle over whether to relax restrictions on assisted fertility treatment went to the ballot box yesterday.

An intense campaign before the two days of voting pitted the Vatican against those who say Italy's current law hurts research and infringes on reproductive freedom.

Polls opened at 8am and were to remain open until 10pm. Balloting resumes today from 7am to 3pm, with results expected sometime later in the day.

The Interior Ministry estimated that by noon, 4.5 per cent of eligible voters had cast ballots. That figure was based on feedback from more than 100 of 110 provinces, it said.

Turnout is crucial. Unless more than 50 per cent of eligible voters turn out to cast ballots, the results of the referendums won't count.

Widespread abstention would doom the efforts to throw out several provisions of the tough law, including one that prohibits egg or sperm donation from outside the couple and another banning scientific research using human embryos.

Among the early voters was President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Other voters at the public school in Rome where he and his wife, Franca, came to vote cheered when they arrived. Ciampi didn't say how he voted.

The vote poses a test to the church's influence in this Catholic nation.

Roman Catholic teaching is opposed to assisted procreation and scientific research on human embryonic stem cells, and the Vatican wants to maintain the restrictions of the current law. Italian bishops have repeatedly urged a voter boycott, with Pope Benedict XVI's endorsement.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's vicar for Rome and president of the Italian bishops' conference, reiterated his appeal, saying that the Vatican is looking to 'enlighten consciences' and defend life.

Opponents of the legislation say the law is too restrictive and prevents research to treat diseases. 'This law is against women, but also against research and ultimately against people's good health,' architect Matilde Cante said
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 13, 2005
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