Italian lawmakers began deliberating Wednesday a bill to toughen a ban on surrogacy to make it illegal to seek it abroad, sparking criticism the government was targeting LGBTQ rights.
If passed, the bill proposed by a member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's far-right Brothers of Italy party would see Italians who seek surrogacy in other countries liable for prosecution on their return home.
Currently, Italian law stipulates that anyone who "carries out, organises or publicises" surrogacy in Italy faces three months to two years in jail and a fine ranging from 600,000 euros ($664,000) to one million euros.
Media reports suggest the vast percentage of people seeking surrogacy abroad are heterosexual couples who cannot have children themselves.
However, the new proposal has sparked alarm among LGBTQ activists who have warned since Meloni took office in October that her emphasis on traditional, Catholic family values risks eroding civil rights.
At a protest at Rome's Pantheon on Tuesday evening, Mario Colamarino, 32, a gay man who said he would one day like to have his own children, called the bill "a pretext, a state homophobia against us".
On Wednesday, as the bill was debated in the lower house of parliament, Brothers of Italy deputy group leader Elisabetta Gardini scoffed at the opposition's criticism.
She called surrogacy -- in which a woman carries to term a pregnancy on behalf of others -- "uterus for rent" that "outrages the dignity of women and tramples on the rights of children."
Another party member in March defined surrogacy as a crime "even more serious than paedophilia".
Civil unions have been allowed in Italy since 2016 but same-sex couples cannot marry, or adopt.
Medically assisted reproduction -- in which a donated egg or sperm is used -- is legal for heterosexual couples but not for same-sex couples or single women.