Women in Italy are still facing serious difficulties in access to abortion services, said the Council of Europe on Monday 11th April.
Officially legal in Italy since 1978, abortion is virtually impossible as many doctors refuse to carry out the procedure.
Women wishing to terminate their pregnancy are occasionally forced to go elsewhere in Italy or abroad. Even worse, they must bypass the authorities to get a termination.
For this reason, the Council’s social rights committee concluded that their health rights are being violated, since “these situations may involve considerable risks for the health and well-being of the women concerned, which is contrary to the right to the protection of health.”
An increasing Doctors’ Conscientious Objection rate
The Council of Europe’s review of the case stemmed from a complaint by the CGIL, Italy’s biggest trade union, which claimed that the situation has made extremely difficult for some women to get the procedure due to doctors’ conscientious objection.
Indeed, the rate of conscientious objection among doctors has increased steadily in the last years – from 57.8% in 2003, to 70.7% in 2009. But in southern Italy these percentages surpass the 85%, as in Basilicata.
Therefore, even if a gynaecology unit exists in most of the Italian hospitals, very few of them have doctors who do not object to performing abortions.
There is no replacement for the medical staff carrying out the procedure, which means that, whenever an health operator is sick, on holidays or simply retires, the abortion service is not ensured.
An appalling conclusion
The ongoing situation in Italy violates not only the women’s right to protection of health, but also the doctors’ right to dignity at work, as the Committee concludes.
As an answer to Council’s ruling, the Italian health ministry argued that abortions were carried out in 60 percent of the country’s health facilities. It also pointed out that the committee did not take into consideration the most recent data on the topic.
According to the Italian Trade Union, the Health Ministry drastically underestimate the number of illegal abortions carried out in Italy, which CGIL estimates as high as 50,000 a year.
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