Society

Pope Francis, Don't Call Me A Murderer: My Abortion Was My Right

Alice, 28 years old, from Genoa, terminated her pregnancy one year ago. "It is neither a transgression nor disgrace, I only exercised my right to do so."

Pope Francis, Don't Call Me A Murderer: My Abortion Was My Right

A demonstration against gender violence and calling for gender parity Turin, Italy, 2019.

FLAVIA AMABILE

GENOA — Alice Merlo terminated her pregnancy with a pill on September 21, 2020. Last week, returning from a four-day visit to Hungary and Slovakia, Pope Francis condemned women who, like Merlo, choose to end their pregnancies. And yet, Italy's 194 law that authorized the right to abortion in 1978, despite myriad shortcomings, is fundamentally working.

The number of abortions in Italy has been declining for years. This is confirmed by the latest data from the annual report of the Ministry of Health : last year, there were 67,638 abortions, a 7.6% drop that continues a downward trend since 1983. The conscientious objection to abortion applied among gynecologists opposed to the practice is also decreasing, from 68.4% in 2019 to 67% in last year.

Women no longer die from illegal abortions, and yet the Catholic world won't forgive them. The Pope defined pregnancy interruptions as a "homicide." He repeated that "whoever gets an abortion commits a murder, to say it clearly" and that you can see in "any embryology book for Medicine students" that at "the third week after conception, all the organs are already there, even the DNA" and that it is therefore a human life! And this human life must be respected." Francis concluded with a question: "Is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem?"

This was a true attack. Not new but particularly brutal. Alice Merlo refuses to accept the condamnation. "After exactly one year, I don't see myself at all as a murderer. I have not committed a homicide. Getting an abortion is neither a transgression nor a disgrace. I only exercised my right, and rights should not require paying some kind of 'pain fine.'"

Speaking about abortion without shame or anonymity

Merlo is 28 years old, lives in Genoa, works in the communication field and is one of the few women who has accepted to talk about her termination of pregnancy without hiding behind anonymity. On the contrary, she decided to show her face right after the intervention with a Facebook post, and then became a testimonial for a campaign organized by the Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics in favor of pharmacological abortion.

Not only has she decided to talk about her decision, but to do so without having to pay what she calls a "pain fine" to society.

I knew one second after discovering I was pregnant that I didn't want to carry this pregnancy to term.

"It wasn't hard for me to decide, "she says. "I knew one second after discovering I was pregnant that I didn't want to carry this pregnancy to term. I was lucky to avoid facing the world of the conscientious objection to abortion, the gynecologist who followed me medically me was not an objector so she accompanied me in the treatment of Ru486, here in Genoa."

A poster in Milan against the RU486 abortion pill

A billboard against the Ru 486 pill in Milan, Italy, 2020. — Photo: Alberico Massimo/Abaca/ZUMA

Last word goes to who has to carry pregnancy forward

Merlo says she suffered no physical or psychological malady — and that this reality is not accepted by society. "When we talk about abortion we say that there is the 194 law, but that it's always a tragedy, a pain, a scar. Instead it is not always like that, and we shouldn't impose a sense of guilt in the people who do talk about it. There are different ways of telling stories."

When people ask why she didn't carry through with her pregnancy, Merlo responds simply: "I didn't feel like it, it wasn't the right time and I didn't want this embryo to become a baby boy or girl. I did it during the seventh week and I never felt guilt or tormented myself. I made my own choice."

She never told the man with whom she had sex. "We didn't have a stable relationship," she explains. "There was no need to burden him with my choice. In any case, even in a stable relationship the last word goes to who has to carry the pregnancy forward."

Despite her determination, and the availability of the gynecologist, abortion is still presented as an obstacle course, semi-clandestine and guilt-ridden, Merlo says. "You can only go in the morning and without having booked a specific appointment. You are treated like a person performing an act they should be ashamed; of and no medical authority indicates where the abortions are performed. There is a climate of omertà and shadows." And yet the law is simply being respected.

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Ideas

Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.


This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

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