UN rights panel urges Italy to ensure access to safe abortions

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has urged Italy to ensure women have access to free and safe abortion services amid concerns over the high number of doctors who refuse to provide terminations.

UN rights panel urges Italy to ensure access to safe abortions
Protesters during a demonstration in Italy in 2008 to protect the country's abortion law. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The committee on Tuesday said it was “concerned for the difficulty of access to legal abortions” and therefore “the significant number of back-street abortions”.

The panel urged the government to “adopt necessary measures to guarantee the free and timely access to legal abortion services”.

Some 70 percent of doctors in Italy refuse to terminate pregnancies, saying it goes against their Christian conscience.

The UN panel’s call comes a month after a Rome hospital caused an outcry after hiring two specialist abortion doctors due to the high number of conscientious objectors, 78 percent of which are in the Lazio region.

Lazio’s regional governor, Nicola Zingaretti, had planned for the two doctors to be hired at Rome’s San Camillio hospital – one of the largest in the capital – where they would be tasked specifically with carrying out abortions.

Meanwhile, women who have illegal abortions face fines of between €5,000 and €10,000, which were introduced last year.

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

The new fines replaced a 'symbolic' fine of €51, which had been given to women who obtained an illegal abortion, and was 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.

Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978. Women 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.


EU human rights chief wants clarity on Italy-Libya migrant pact

The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, has asked Italy to shed more light on a pact made with war-torn Libya to stem the flow of boat migrants crossing to Italy.

EU human rights chief wants clarity on Italy-Libya migrant pact
The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, wants more clarity on the Italy-Libya migrant deal. Photo: Adem Altan/AFP

Muiznieks wrote to Interior Minister Marco Minniti seeking clarification amid reports of torture endured by migrants trapped in Libya.

“In light of these reports on the human rights situation for migrants in Libya, giving them to the Libyan authorities or other groups exposes them to a real risk of torture or inhumane and degrading treatment,” Muiznieks wrote, according to reports in the Italian press.

“I would be grateful of you could clarify what kind of support operations your government expects to provide to the Libyan authorities in Libyan territorial waters and what safeguards Italy has put in place to ensure that people intercepted or rescued by Italian vessels in Libyan territorial waters do not subsequently face a situation contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention (on Human Rights)”.

In August, Libya barred foreign search and rescue ships from a stretch of water off its coast, with Italy also reining in the operations by making the NGOs sign up to a code of conduct.

NGOs, who between them have rescued thousands of boat migrants attempting the crossing, were accused of actively encouraging people smuggling.

Under a deal reached in July, Italy provides technical and operational support to Libya’s coastguard to boost its capacity to intercept boats and return migrants to Libya.

NGOs have argued that migrants endure brutal conditions in Libya, with many preferring to risk dying at sea rather than stay there. Italy said the move was intended to combat trafficking while reducing the number of deaths in the Mediterranean.

While the pact has stemmed the flow of migrants coming from Libya, there has been an increase in the number leaving from Tunisia.

Eight people died on Sunday night when a Tunisian navy ship crashed into a migrant boat off the country's Kerkenna islands.

In September, Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano travelled to Tripoli to propose resettling around the world a thousand vulnerable migrants stuck in Libya.

He said it would begin as a pilot scheme with “1,000 migrants” and entail “several countries around the world welcoming these people”.

More than 600,000 people from Africa, Asia and the Middle East have arrived in Italy since 2014, many of them by sea from Libya. Italy is also looking hard at other ways of discouraging migrants from crossing, including incentives for a voluntary return home.