A Tense Debate Erupts at the G7, This Time Over Abortion Rights

By mzaxazm


The leaders of the G7 had plenty to discuss at their annual meeting in Italy. Two major wars, in Gaza and Ukraine. One hefty loan for Ukraine. And then there was abortion rights.

Officials familiar with the talks over the Group of 7’s final communiqué — essentially a statement of all the leaders agreed on — say the wording on reproductive rights came down to a diplomatic tug of war, primarily between the United States and Italy, the host of the meeting.

Several officials say the debate centered on a request by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy not to include the words “abortion” and “reproductive rights” in the statement. The Italian government has denied that it intended to backtrack on the commitment to protecting access to safe abortions.

When told of Ms. Meloni’s position, American officials say, President Biden pushed back, wanting an explicit reference to reproductive rights and at least a reaffirmation of support for abortion rights from last year’s communiqué. Several other G7 members agreed with Mr. Biden, according to the American and European officials familiar with the discussion who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate negotiations.

In the end, the word “abortion” does not appear in the communiqué, but it does reference last year’s final statement from the G7 summit in Japan, saying, “We reiterate our commitments in the Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué to universal access to adequate, affordable and quality health services for women, including comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.”

The Hiroshima statement specifically included “addressing access to safe and legal abortion and post-abortion care.”

For Mr. Biden, a Catholic, the issue has long been a fraught one personally and politically. But he has become more forceful in his defense of abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022. In striking down the constitutional right to abortion, the court’s move led to a wave of restrictions on abortion in more than 20 states.

Mr. Biden has fiercely criticized the court decision and used it to galvanize key voting blocs as he seeks re-election.

For Ms. Meloni, analysts say, taking a stance on abortion was an attempt to please parts of her conservative base and perhaps also Pope Francis, who attended the summit at her invitation to discuss the effects of artificial intelligence. It also fit well with her general way of governing.

She has tended to stick with her conservative beliefs when fighting culture wars at home, while taking a pro-Western stance in dealing with international issues. She is a firm supporter, for instance, of the West’s backing of Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

“She took mainstream positions on the things that matter” on the international stage, said Roberto D’Alimonte, an Italian political scientist. Being conservative on abortion “costs her nothing” abroad but pleases some of her voters at home, he said.

When Mr. Biden learned from his staff in the past week that reproductive rights might not appear in the communiqué, he instructed his team not to let that happen, the American officials familiar with the discussions said, or he would not sign on to the document.

In a statement sent to news organizations on Thursday, Ms. Meloni said that she did not seek to backtrack on guarantees of safe and legal abortions but that “in order not to be repetitive,” the summit’s concluding statements could refer only to the previous communiqués.

Asked about the many media reports of her seeking to keep “abortion” out of the communiqué, Ms. Meloni said Friday before a bilateral meeting with Mr. Biden: “I’m not aware of an intention to discuss that topic. I can tell you that the G7 communiqué is going to be agreed by consensus by all G7 countries.”

When asked by an Italian reporter on Thursday about the removal of language supporting abortion rights, President Emmanuel Macron of France — who is facing off against the far right in a snap election in just two weeks — said he “regretted” it.

“You know France’s position,” Mr. Macron said. “France has enshrined women’s right to abortion and the freedom to control their own bodies in its Constitution.”

“Your country doesn’t have the same feelings nowadays,” he said.

In her statement on Thursday, Ms. Meloni said that it was “deeply wrong” to “use such a precious forum as the G7 to make electoral campaigns.” She did not say to whom she was referring.

A senior European Union official said in an interview that the E.U. defended using the full language from the Hiroshima communiqué, including phrasing about abortion rights. But, he said, the leaders were not able to agree, which ultimately led to a reference of support for sexual and reproductive rights but not an explicit allusion to abortion.

The final communiqué mirrors pre-Hiroshima G7 statements, like one in 2021 that more broadly supported “sexual and reproductive health.”

On a more personal level, Mr. Biden and Ms. Meloni seem to have enjoyed a warm relationship since she was elected despite their divergent stances on social issues.

While Mr. Biden expressed concern in 2022 about her far-right party politics, the two leaders have demonstrated a strong alliance on Ukraine. When she last visited the White House in March, Mr. Biden said that the two agreed that “we have each other’s backs,” and he kissed her on the forehead.

Despite having expressed anti-abortion feelings, Ms. Meloni has promised not to overturn Italy’s abortion law, which makes it legal and is generally not in dispute in the country. But she has tried to please her conservative base without making disruptive change, emphasizing abortion “prevention” in legislation passed in April and vowing to do whatever she can “to help a woman who thinks abortion is the only way.”

Italy’s 1978 law which legalized abortion also emphasized helping women avoid terminating their pregnancies because of economic, social or family hardships, and Ms. Meloni has said that part of the law has not been applied enough. Critics of the new law, which Ms. Meloni’s party introduced, say they worry it could embolden anti-abortion groups to advocate inside family counseling centers.

Ms. Meloni has also vowed to make surrogacy a universal crime. It is already illegal in Italy, but under the proposal surrogacy could be punished even if it occurred abroad.

On Friday, some supporters of abortion rights in Italy spoke out against the elimination of the word from the final communiqué.

“It is a shame that puts our country at the level of the most questionable regimes,” Laura Boldrini, a lawmaker with Italy’s Democratic Party, wrote on X.

Others expressed support, or at least understanding, of Ms. Meloni’s position.

“She did well,” said Giorgio Celsi, an anti-abortion activist in the northern Italian town of Besana. Ms. Meloni’s party “has pro-life voters,” he said. “She must take that into account.”

Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Bari, Italy, and Aurelien Breeden from Paris.



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