Italy’s legal loophole saw woman denied abortion by 23 different hospitals

Italy’s legal loophole saw woman denied abortion by 23 different hospitals
An Italian woman has revealed she was turned away from 23 hospitals in north-west Italy when she was seeking abortion services, highlighting the disconnect between the country’s abortion laws and its Catholic influence.

The anonymous 41-year-old mother of two came forward to share her story in Il Gazzettino after she became pregnant when her contraceptive failed. She was refused an abortion by her gynecologist and her local hospital, and then began contacting other hospitals which also refused to carry out the procedure.

The hospitals said they didn’t have an opening within the 12-week timeframe, or that they didn’t have doctors who were willing to do the procedure.

Abortion is legal in Italy up to 90 days, with exceptions for pregnancies where the woman’s life is at risk or the foetus is badly harmed. Women who are caught availing of abortions after the 90-day limit are fined as much as €10,000 as a result of new sanctions introduced last February.

The 1978 rule legalizing abortion contains a loophole allowing doctors to refuse to carry out terminations for religious or personal reasons, which has created a large number of doctors who are conscientious objectors. 

According to data collected by the Italian Department of Health, close to 80 percent of doctors in the Veneto region refuse to carry out abortion. Nationwide, 70 percent of doctors are conscientious objectors.

The woman was only able to finally access an abortion when trade union Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL) intervened, allowing her to get an abortion at Pauda’s main hospital, which had previously refused her request.

“I wonder what’s the sense of making a law that gives women the right of choice and then not creating the conditions for them to do so,” she said.

CGIL released a statement describing the woman’s ordeal as an example of “the long-standing problem of conscientious objection which in reality prevents - in many public structures - the full respect of Law 194.”

In many cases, waiting lists for abortions can prevent women from accessing the service within the 90-day window. CGIL reports the “dangerously long” waiting lists force women to pay for private services, or “to resort to clandestine abortions, a social shame which Law 194 was created to prevent."

The Council of Europe ruled against Italy for the second time last April, stating the country's abortion system breaches a woman’s right to protection of health.