Feminists clashed with pro-lifers December 19 in Bologna, Italy. The pro-life group calls itself "No. 194" — a reference to the 1978 Italian Law 194 that allows women to abort their children up to three months into the pregnancy, and up to five months if it's a therapeutic abortion.
The group had originally requested a permit to pray the Rosary for nine hours in front of Bologna's biggest hospital, Hospital Maggiore — one of Italy's most important healthcare centers. It took more than six months before they got their permit, and even then the group was only allowed to pray for four and a half hours, and on a date different from the one requested, in a small square practically hidden in the Bologna center.
"Bologna is like North Korea," says Pietro Guerini, president of the group. "They stop us from praying. We pray in front of so many hospitals in Italy. Only in this city, in this North Korean enclave, we have problems."
It's the second time the group had their request to pray directly in front of Maggiore denied. Their first public sit-in occurred last June, this time in the much more open and spacious San Domenico square. In both demonstrations they had to be protected by police, which has become the standard in Bologna for any conservative — particularly Catholic — rallies.
In June, the secretary of Bologna's Democratic Party — Italy's biggest center-left party — wrote a letter demanding the vigil be banned. "The manner in which the group chooses to manifest and the decision to do so in front of a public hospital, a secular place of healing, is offensive to the citizens and is an expression of intolerance," he wrote.
Regardless of the group's confinement to a small square not visible from the street, the group attracted the rage of the feminist collective "Mujeres Libres" ("Free Women") and their far-left sympathizers, who organized a counter-demonstration on the same day next to the group. Theirwebsite read:
We will be there on the 19th to throw them out, to defend Law 194 and to say that this law as it is isn't enough: We want the elimination of Article 9, which gives doctors the right to deny an abortion if their consciences are against it. We want hospitals with no priests. We want to kick the asses of anyone who thinks it's their right to step on our liberty. There's no space in Bologna for pro-lifers and fascists, and there will never be.
The activists cornered the pro-lifers with their megaphones and slowed down the inflow of people arriving for the public prayer. Many had travelled long distances from multiple cities in Italy to participate.
A member of the pro-life group wrote an indignant letter afterwards to the local newspaper demanding the resignations of both the mayor and police commissioner of Bologna for considering praying in front of a hospital a disturbance to the public order and depriving people of their constitutional right to rally and pray, while allowing these same people to be harrassed by the feminists.
Not only was the vigil on the hospital grounds denied, but it also seemed impossible for the authorities to find any other place for us on any other day. They finally did find us an 'alternative' place in a completely isolated and inaccessible square, where no one besides the residents ever pass through. ... On the other hand, the police allowed a group of 'wannabe' dictators to assemble in the only spot where we could stand, with their megaphones pointed at us — and the police observed and tolerated all of it. Many people who witnessed the situation have told us that they thought the guards were there to protect the agitators instead of us.
The letter received no response.
On the next day, Sunday, the pro-family group "Sentinelle in piedi" ("Standing Sentinels") gatheredon the same spacious square the pro-life group had originally prayed on on June 7. San Domenico square — home to the Bolognese Dominican convent and the Basilica of San Domenico — was again guarded by heavily armored police, owing to a counter-demonstration from an LGBT group.
The hallmark of the Sentinels' protests — a French movement born in 2013 and which has quickly spread all over Europe — is silent, peaceful witness consisting simply of standing still and reading a book. The conduct is in striking opposition to the behavior of their leftist opponents, who attacked the group in 2014 so violently that since then, every one of the Sentinels' vigils have been accompanied by heavy security. What was originally intended to be a peaceful and serene gathering has become a source of tension in the city owing to the extreme reaction of the LGBT community and their inability to brook any dissent.