ITALY – The doctor who can’t stop helping women in need

Silvana Agatone, Abortion provider

At 69, Silvana Agatone should have retired long ago. But Silvana Agatone just keeps going, like many of her colleagues. She is one of Italy’s leading voices in the fight for women’s right to abortion. She likes her work and feels obliged to do it now more than ever. She no longer performs abortions herself, but when a hospital called her in October with a patient who was a minor and was on the last day of the three-month legal period, and no one in the hospital was willing to do the abortion, she stepped in.

Her practice near Piazza Bologna in Rome, resembles a dollhouse. At the entrance, you are greeted by a sculpture of two flamingos making love. On the chests of drawers and little tables are porcelain figurines and other pretty things. Pink and rose are the dominant colors — a cheerful environment for a difficult moment.

Even though abortions have been permitted since 1978, there are fewer and fewer doctors to provide them, and only a third of hospitals that should offer abortions do so. The Ministry of Health refuses to publish a map with this information, so that women can find them. Conscientious objection is claimed by 70% of providers. For Agatone, they are saboteurs. “They help to ensure that the fundamental right to abortion is increasingly eroded.”

She blames the arch-Catholic climate in the country. “It’s about sin, about guilt.” Those who perform abortions feel this every day. She herself has been the target of constant hostility. In all the hospitals of her career, Agatone says she was always the only one willing to do abortions.

The catalyst to study gynaecology, specialising in obstetrics, was a documentary about the moon landing that she had seen in her youth. “So that’s how far man has come!” she thought at the time. “But in the delivery room, women are left alone with their pain!” In the hospitals where she first worked, she learned about all kinds of hardships. Women who had been raped. Who had been abandoned by their lovers. Whose husbands poked a hole in the condom to get them pregnant. It was striking that almost all her patients came from poorer backgrounds.

That is because of some 10,000 to 13,000 clandestine abortions take place in Italy every year, and women travel abroad, and others go to a private clinic where where everything is uncomplicated and privacy guaranteed.

Behind the abortion opponents, she says, is a financially powerful lobby that is active worldwide, trying to use the issue to gain power and divide society.” After the USA, Hungary and Poland, Italy is now being targeted, she says. Conspiracy theory? Maybe. Maybe not. Even before the Meloni government was sworn in, a proposal for an amendment to the law was submitted to the Senate, that the embryo should have rights that today only apply from birth, making all abortions a criminal act.

Since the elections, Meloni has said she does not want to abolish Law 194 on abortion. But Silvana Agatone is convinced that the prime minister will find other ways to make abortions even more difficult. She points to fundamentalist organisations who line up outside many clinics across the country, handing out flyers, singing Christian songs and blocking the way of those seeking abortions. In some hospitals, they have even gained access to the consulting rooms, where women seeking abortions must be told about the procedure and explain their motives.

What drives her? It must be her zodiac sign, she says laconically. “As a Libra, I can’t stand injustice.”

SOURCE: Neue Züricher Zeitung, by Marc Zollinger, 3 December 2022 (Translated from German with, shared by Christian Fiala)