By Enrica Barberis
Abortion has been legal in Italy for more than three decades, but more and more doctors still today refuse to perform abortion procedures. The strong influence that Catholicism has on the Italian public opinion is to be blamed.
According to a recent report by the Italian Department of Health, two gynecologists out of three in Lombardia (Northern Italy) refuse to perform abortions.
The Italian government must guarantee better healthcare to women who are routinely denied these services. Women are risking their lives daily to get illegal abortions.
Italy legalized abortion in 1978 with the much debated “Legge 194.” The law states any woman has 90 days from the date of conception to request a termination of pregnancy. The termination must be due to health, economic, social or family reasons. However, the problem with “Legge 194” is that doctors are also within their rights to refuse to perform an abortion on moral grounds. Part of the same law asserts that health personnel may refuse to perform abortions if they have a moral objection to the operation.
According to statistics in a recent New York Times article, “Seventy percent of gynecologists, up to 83 percent in some conservative Southern regions, are conscientious objectors, and do not perform abortions for religious or personal reasons.”
This contradiction between law and religion in Italy provoked demonstrations. Women are calling for their right to receive medical assistance and support.
In 2013, a case of omission of duty against a doctor was brought to the Italian Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s judgment was surprising. Doctors who are conscientious objectors, still have the professional obligation to protect the health and life of the woman. A doctor who declares him/herself a conscientious objector is free to refuse to perform the procedure, yet cannot refuse to treat the patient who undergoes the abortion in hospital.
Pope Francis, known for being progressive on many matters, is not flexible on abortion. “To play with life is a sin against the Creator”, and doctors must make the “brave choice,” even up to the point of civil disobedience, never to commit abortion or euthanasia, Pope Francis said in an address in 2014.
The Italian government is not doing enough to provide women with help and support. For this reason, Roman physician Silvana Agatone founded an organization of “non-objectors” in 2008. The organization is called L.A.I.G.A. and aims to protect and inform women about where and how to find doctors who will perform pregnancy termination in Italy.