ROME – A prominent Italian pro-life activist has spoken out about the story of Lara Lugli, a volleyball player being sued by her club for an unplanned pregnancy, saying the case is emblematic of a societal disregard for women, particularly those who are mothers.

“The news about Lara Lugli, the volleyball player punished because she was pregnant, almost as if motherhood was a fault, struck me a lot,” Virginia Coda Nunziante, president of Italy’s March for Life, told Crux.

In March 2019 Lugli, 38, was fired by her club, Volley Pordenone, after she informed team executives that she was expecting a baby. A month later, Lugli suffered a miscarriage.

She informed her club of the miscarriage some months later and requested backpay for the month she played for and trained with the team before discovering that she was pregnant.

In response, Volley Pordenone informed Lugli that not only were they refusing to pay her for the time she played, but they were taking her to court on grounds that she did not disclose that she planned to have a baby when she joined the team, thus breaking the conditions of her contract allegedly to get a better wage.

According to court documents Lugli posted to Facebook, the club argued that her early departure damaged the team’s performance and cost them financially.

Lugli has since launched a countersuit saying the club caused her emotional damage, as the pregnancy was unexpected and her treatment, especially after disclosing her miscarriage, was scarring.

In comments to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Lugli said that after informing the club of her miscarriage, they told her she could have started playing again, or at least train and sit on the bench.

“Setting aside the psychological condition in which I was at that moment, it was a sentence of monstrous inelegance. I felt shame, sadness, and now, a few days after the request for damages, I have decided to tell my story,” she said, adding, “It is unbelievable that in 2021 becoming pregnant should be considered unprofessional, criminalized like taking cocaine and testing positive for doping.”

“It is incredible that a woman is humiliated in this way and even her pain and very private details of her personal story are used,” Lugli said.

Lugli and Volley Pordenone are set to face each other again in court May 18.

Coda said there is “a continuous talk about the role of women, the importance of equating them with men, about the pink quotas, about the drama of femicide,” but there is still little regard for motherhood.

She added that the calls for women’s empowerment are plentiful, but these conversations are strikingly void when it comes to a woman’s role as a mother, which is the heart of many women’s lives and identities.

“Unfortunately, this mentality is now also rooted in the dominant culture of our country,” she said, noting that until the 1970s, large families were characteristic of Italian culture.

Now, thanks in part to economic woes and a shift in cultural habits, Italy’s families are getting smaller, and the annual birthrate is dipping to alarmingly low levels. In recent years, the Italian government has launched fertility campaigns designed to encourage couples to have more children.

The fact that a case such as Lugli’s can happen in 2021, when demographic trends are a prime concern in Europe and when the push for women’s empowerment and equality stronger than it’s ever been, is not only shocking, Coda said, but illustrates that a woman’s role in modern society “has been distorted.”

The Lugli case, which initially came to light March 9, the day after the world celebrated International Women’s Day, has since made waves in Italy, with many women’s rights groups, politicians, and sports chiefs weighing in.

Italian senate speaker Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati described the actions taken against Lugli as “violence against women,” arguing that “motherhood has an irreplaceable personal and social value.”

Italian minister for equal opportunities and the family, Elena Bonetti, also voiced support for Lugli and shock “for her dramatic experience that no woman should have to undergo anymore in our country.”

In a March 9 tweet, Bonetti said that Lugli’s case is a clear example of why “there is little to celebrate” in Italy on women’s day, “and much to fight for equality.”

In her comments to Crux, Coda said the empowerment of women should not come at the expense of their role as mothers.

“A society, not only Italian but I would say western, which does not put motherhood in first place is not projected towards the future and therefore is a society that is dying,” she said.

Pointing to Europe’s low birth rates, she said that if those in politics don’t respond to this trend “by putting the birth rate first, if the professional world, or as in this case the world of sports, considers pregnancy a ‘problem’ and an impediment, this makes it clear that women are seen only in an instrumental way.”

Societies are built on the invaluable role that mothers play, Coda said, adding that in her view, “many things need to change in society in order to be able to put the family back at the center.”

Just as Lugli’s pregnancy was unplanned, couples can’t, and shouldn’t, anticipate children like they do the purchase of a car, or house, or a dream vacation, she said, adding, “In young people who face marriage, it is necessary to rediscover generosity and openness to life, a spirit of sacrifice, and a good dose of abandonment to Divine Providence.”

“Today women are considered only if they are successful in the workplace, to which they must dedicate themselves ‘body and soul,’” Coda said, insisting that in addition to professional success, a working woman must “be helped to play her role as a mother, exactly contrary to what happened to Lara Lugli.”

Coda noted that there are several companies in Italy, such as the Brazzale dairy factory, which gives women who go on maternity leave a ‘baby bonus’ check.

Incentives such as this for working mothers can be imitated at a national level, Coda said, arguing that the government also ought to look for ways to help women who choose to be stay-at-home moms, making the decision less of a stigma.

“This is also an important contribution to society and the women who choose this path must not feel guilty but rather supported in their choice,” she said.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen