“Fertility Day”: How Italy’s Ministry of Health Is Wasting Our Money

The first campaign was recalled. The new one is even more offensive. And the real problems are still unsolved

Italy: the land where mamma is queen and women get all the care they could possibly wish for, including free and easily-available contraception, pre- and post-natal care, and safe and legal abortions.

As if.

First, a quick recap for those of you who may have missed it: Fertility Day is the brainchild of Beatrice Lorenzin, Italy’s Minister of Health. Lorenzin launched the campaign on Sept. 1st to widespread protest: ostensibly aimed at promoting healthy lifestyle choices in order to prevent infertility, Fertility Day was a poorly-planned, poorly-executed attempt at bullying Italians — particularly women — into having more children at a younger age. It’s unsurprising that many took issue with this approach.

I wrote about it extensively in this story, which broke worldwide.

The campaign has since been recalled and turned into a so far inoffensive and rather superfluous string of generic recommendations about maintaining healthy habits in order to maximize one’s chance of conceiving. All told, nothing that your family doctor hasn’t told you at some point or another: drinking, smoking and doing drugs are bad for you. Oh wow. You don’t say.

The date set for Fertility Day is September 22nd, which is tomorrow, so the Ministry of Health has revamped the website, adding a new logo.

“Let’s talk about health.”

What that blood-red knotted handkerchief is supposed to represent is anyone’s guess, but that’s nothing compared to the racist, condescending horror of the cover of the informative brochure to be handed out during the various events scheduled all over the country (which at the time of writing appear to have been reduced to a handful of round tables on reproductive health).

“Good habits to be encouraged, bad ‘buddies’ to be abandoned”

Like the deleted campaign posters from the launch, the cover is made using cheap and widely-utilized stock images — one from Shutterstock, one from Colourbox (thanks to Suzukimaruti and Veruska Anconitano for checking), which would be poor enough in itself. The subtext, however, is disheartening: it’s 2016, and “good habits” are still personified by young, blond and apparently rich people on the beach, while “bad buddies” are black, poor and do drugs. In a country where racism is a creeping problem, largely unseen and unacknowledged, and integration is hindered by (among other things) the country’s rigid citizenship laws, the Ministry of Health is using people of colour as models of unhealthy living. The fact that the models in the other picture look little like Italians and a lot like wealthy Americans on holiday in the Hamptons is another matter entirely.

All this nonsense is costing Italian taxpayers a total of 113,000 euro, which is peanuts in the Ministry’s overall budget, but considering how these funds appear to have been used the campaign is obviously bad value for money. Lorenzin doesn’t even come close to tackling the actual problems behind Italy’s declining birthrate, such as high unemployment among young people, ever-declining social mobility, discrimination against women and the lack of equal-opportunities parental care, unaffordable childcare and lack of legal recognition for gay parents.

Admittedly, none of that is her job. Reproductive healthcare, however, is: in 2015, Lorenzin commissioned a study on conscientious objection among gynecologists. As it turns out, 70% of all gynecologists in Italian hospitals refuse to perform pregnancy terminations, but the number goes way up in certain regions (over 93% in Molise and over 80% in Lazio), forcing women to travel to obtain a termination. So far, Lorenzin has refused to acknowledge the problem. President of Lazio Nicola Zingaretti has recently obtained the removal of pro-life campaigners from family planning clinics, and that’s a small step in the right direction, but it’s far from enough. Conscientious objection may have been a necessity in the ’70s, in order to dispense catholic gynecologists from having to perform what they perceived to be an unethical intervention, but most of those doctors have retired by now. Those who chose to specialize in gynecology after 1978 did so in a country where abortion was finally legal and safe, and was made so in order to preserve the lives and reproductive health of women.

That is only one of the many issues that are being willfully ignored by the Minister of Health, who appears to think that banging on about having lots of babies is the solution to Italy’s depopulation. As a citizen of this country, I want her to tackle the real issues. And I want it now.

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