[JURIST] Pope Benedict XVI [official website] stepped into an ongoing political fray Monday by backing calls for Italian voters to abstain from a June referendum on embryo research, artificial insemination, and egg and sperm donation. At issue in the referendum is Law No. 40, passed in 2004, which bans embryo research and restricts the number of eggs that can be fertilized during each attempt at fertilization. The law also prohibits freezing or screening of frozen embryos and the use of sperm or ova from a man or woman other than the couple undergoing the procedure, or from a deceased spouse. To overturn the law, the referendum must have a 50% voter turnout, with a majority of voters opposing the current rules. Catholic Cardinal Camillo Ruini [Wikipedia profile] has led the fight to maintain the law as-is and had previously called the country's faithful to refrain from voting. Opponents of the law gathered almost four million signatures to force the referendum [JURIST report]. Daniele Capezzone [Wikipedia entry], head of Italy's Radical Party [homepage in Italian] and campaigning for a "Yes" vote, called the Pope's intervention "an unprecedented offensive" by the Vatican. BBC News and IPS have more.