Getting an abortion 'too hard' even though it's legal in Italy

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Pro-choice activists demonstrate in Rome in 2014. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
12:15 CEST+02:00
Women in Italy still encounter “substantial difficulty” in accessing services to enable them to safely terminate a pregnancy despite abortion being legal in the country since the 1970s, the Council of Europe said on Monday.

Abortion has been legal since 1978, but many women are forced to have their pregnancies terminated in secret because of the growing number of doctors who refuse to perform the operation for religious reasons.

The Council, which aims to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law within Europe, said that Italy was violating women’s right to “protection of their health”.

The report came after CGIL, Italy’s biggest trade union, filed a petition to the Council, which added that doctors who do not object face discrimination.

“In some cases, given the urgency of the procedure required, women who want an abortion may be forced to go to other establishments (outside of the public services), in Italy or abroad, or to end their pregnancy without the support or supervision of competent health authorities.”

Women in Italy are entitled to terminate a pregnancy within the first three months.

After 90 days, abortions are only allowed if the foetus is badly harmed or the mother’s life is at risk.

But the same law that introduced abortion in Italy - 'Law 94' - also legally gives doctors the right to refuse abortions on moral grounds.

An estimated 70 percent of doctors and nurses across Italy are conscientious objectors, a figure which rises as high as 90 percent in some provinces.

The Council of Europe report comes less than two months after the Italian government raised fines for women who have illegal abortions to between €5,000 and €10,000.

The fines replaced a 'symbolic' fine of €51, which was aimed at encouraging those who had an illegal abortion to denounce doctors who performed it as well as encourage them to use the state healthcare system in case complications arose. 

Read more: Anger as Italy fines women up to €10k for secret abortions

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The move was lambasted by pro-choice activists, who have appealed to the government to abolish the fines.

“Now if women have complications it is unlikely that they will go to a public hospital for treatment, because if the doctor who treats them reports their illegal abortion they will be heavily sanctioned,” Dr. Silvanna Agatone, president of the Free Italian Association of Gynaecologists, Laiga, told The Local.

“It is not uncommon for women to experience life-threatening septicemia after an abortion. They should be made to feel comfortable about getting treatment, without fear of reprisal.” 

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