ArticleVolume 33, Number 1 (2016)

The Laws of Others: Mandating “Rights Through Travel” Between Discrimination, Moral Hazard, and Irrationality

In the mid-1970s, shortly after a national referendum enshrined the right to divorce within Italy’s legal framework, the campaign for the liberalization of the country’s prohibitive abortion and contraception regulation took off. Part of the strategy adopted by feminist groups centered on organizing abortion travel. Clinics in London—where abortion had been legalized in 1967 (subject to various conditions, including the opinion of two physicians)—proved amenable to receiving weekly plane-loads of women accompanied by one or two activists. As demand grew and London no longer sufficed, other destinations were added. Until a new law was passed in 1978, unhappily pregnant women continued to meet in a cellar of a Roman working class neighborhood that has long since ceded to gentrification.1 There, they received travel instructions from a group of young feminists. Many of the activists were university students; a few—like the lead organizer, physician Simonetta Tosi—already professionals. Perhaps the women going to London were “learning feminism” at the same time as they were accessing vital services. It’s possible that the travel itself promoted recruitment;2 certainly, it was organized both as a service and as a form of mobilization.

  1.  In 1975, the Italian Constitutional Court repealed the laws criminalizing abortion as an offence “against the integrity of the race” that undermined the “demographic interest of the state.” Corte cost., 18 febbraio 1975, n.27, Foro it. 1975, I, 515 (It.). In 1978, abortion was legalized when pregnancy, child birth or maternity imperil a woman’s psychological or physical health in relation to her health or social and economic conditions as well as to the circumstances of the conception; or when there are severe problems regarding the development of the fetus. Legge 22 maggio 1978, n.194 (It.), G.U. 22 maggio 1978, n.140 (It.). For an analysis of the significance of that campaign for feminist mobilization, see Yasmine Ergas, 1968–79—Feminism and the Italian Party System: Women’s Politics in a Decade of Turmoil, 14 Comp. Pol. 253 (1982). See also Maud Anne Bracke, Women and the Reinvention of the Political: Feminism in Italy, 1968–83 (2014).
  2.  Travel and transportation hubs can provide important sites for collective organization. See Premilla Nadasen, Household Workers Unite: The Untold Stories of African American Women Who Built A Movement (2015).