Council of Europe criticises Italy over difficulty in obtaining abortions

11 April 2016Abortion law in Italy makes abortion available on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and after that if there is a risk to the woman’s life or health or fetal anomaly. That same law, dating from 1978, also allows doctors to conscientiously object from performing abortions.This week, however, the Council of Europe’s Social Rights Committee said Italy is violating women’s rights due to the serious difficulties they face in trying to obtain safe abortions because as many as 70% of doctors refuse to carry out the procedure. They found that the situation violated both women’s right to protection of health and doctors’ right to dignity at work. In a significant number of Italian hospitals, even if a gynaecology unit exists, there are very few or no doctors who do not object to performing abortions, the Committee said. Women seeking an abortion are sometimes forced to go elsewhere in Italy or abroad, or bypass the authorities to get a termination.Their review of the case stemmed from a petition by the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL), Italy’s biggest trade union, which said a growing rate of conscientious objection among doctors has made it extremely difficult for some women to access abortion. The CGIL said the Health Ministry drastically underestimates the number of illegal abortions carried out in Italy, which the union thinks could be as high as 50,000 a year.Giving supporting evidence, the Associazione “Luca Coscioni per la libertà” di ricerca scientifica described a significant regional disparity in the provision of abortion services due to the lack of non-objecting medical practitioners, such that women had to rely on private service providers or obtain an abortion in other geographical areas.The CGIL also maintained that the work-related rights of the non-objecting medical practitioners were being violated and referred to situations where, according to its observations from the field, their work has been limited to performing abortions or they have been required to work overtime, or to work in isolation, as well as without replacement or assistant personnel. The European Trade Union Confederation concurred on a number of these issues.Responding to the ruling, the Health Ministry said the Committee did not take into account the most recent data on the matter – that abortions were carried out in 60% of the country’s health facilities.Italy will now be able to respond formally to the Council of Europe’s directives, and the Council will monitor the situation, according to a spokesman.COUNCIL OF EUROPE REPORT: SOURCES:IB Times ; Reuters UK ; ANSA IT