The woman, who has not been named, was turned away from 23 hospitals across the north-west of the country.
After getting pregnant unexpectedly while using the IUD as a form of contraception, she was only able to find a hospital which would offer the procedure when trade union CGIL intervened on her behalf.
The union was able to ensure the woman could have an abortion at Padua's main hospital, which had previously refused the woman.
The woman, a 41-year-old from Padua, shared her story with regional paper Il Gazzettino this week. She said that after being refused the procedure by her gynaecologist and local hospital, she had contacted hospitals across the Veneto region and also in the neighbouring regions of Fruili-Venezia-Giulia and Alto-Adige, without success.
For varying reasons, the hospitals all reportedly told her they were unable to offer her the procedure within the 90-day window during which abortion is legal in Italy. Some hospitals said they had no available appointments left, while others either didn't have any non-objecting doctors, or those who were willing to carry out abortions were on holiday.
Her experience “reopens not only in Italy and Veneto, but all across Italy, the long-standing problem of conscientious objection which in reality prevents – in many public structures – the full respect of Law 194,” said the CGIL union in a statement on Wednesday, referring to the law which legalized abortion in Italy.
In the Veneto region, almost 80 percent of doctors refuse to carry out abortions, with that figure even higher in Padua and Belluno. Across Italy as a whole, 70 percent of doctors are conscientious objectors, but that figure rises to as high as 90 percent in some rural areas.
CGIL described the waiting lists for abortions in Italy as “dangerously long, forcing women to turn to private structures or, worse, to resort to clandestine abortions, a social shame which Law 194 was created to prevent.”
“It is inconceivable to force women to undertake actual odysseys in order to see the state law respected,” the union said.
The question of whether Law 194 is being fully respected was recently thrown into the spotlight when a Lazio hospital announced it planned to hire two non-objecting doctors, specifically to carry out abortions.
The president of Rome's order of physicians labelled the plan “unjust and discriminatory”, while Lazio's regional governor, who had first proposed the idea, said it was a necessary measure to ensure the law is upheld.
Abortion and conscientious objection in Italy
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.
Women who have illegal abortions face fines of between €5,000 and €10,000, which were introduced last year.
These replaced a 'symbolic' fine of €51, which had been given to women who obtained an illegal abortion, and were aimed at encouraging them to denounce doctors who performed it as well as encourage them to use the state healthcare system in case any complications arose.
“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 at the time.
Pro-choice activists demonstrate in Rome in 2014. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP