May 10, 2007 / 2:27 PM / 11 years ago

Milan hospital removes crucifixes, sparks row

MILAN (Reuters) - A top Italian maternity hospital has drawn criticism from right-wing politicians by replacing crucifixes on the walls of its wards with images of the Virgin Mary so as not to offend immigrant women giving birth there.

Basilio Tiso, head of Milan’s Mangiagalli clinic where 7,000 women give birth each year, said it was felt the Virgin’s image was more fitting to motherhood and was less of a religious statement than a crucifix.

“We have so many people who come here from different backgrounds, different countries,” he told Reuters, adding that the move was intended to “help us all live together in a more civil way.”

But Carla De Albertis, a Milan townhall official in charge of health affairs, called the decision “folly.”

“If I went to a foreign country, I would never dream of asking them to take down a religious symbol representing their faith, culture and traditions,” she said.

“We should not lead people to believe that we are ashamed of our roots,” she said.

Ignazio La Russa, from the right-wing National Alliance, called on the hospital’s patients to take their own crosses with them and put them on the walls.

The Mangiagalli, Milan’s largest obstetric hospital, is known for its secular stance in defending women’s right to have an abortion in a predominantly Roman Catholic country where doctors can refuse to terminate pregnancies for religious motives.

“There weren’t many crosses in this hospital anyway and we thought the image of the Virgin Mary would be more fitting in a maternity ward,” Tiso said.

Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world and many of those who have babies are immigrants.

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