Ireland will hold a referendum on 25 May, asking voters whether they want or not to repeal the so-called Eight amendment to the Irish Constitution, guaranteeing the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother, and prohibiting abortion in almost all cases, making it one of the world’s toughest abortion laws in the world.
But tough law is not always needed to actually restrict access to abortion: in some countries where abortion is legal, women face increasing problems to access it because non-objecting gynecologists are simply not available.
It is the case for Italy, one of the very few countries that keeps a record of the objecting doctors. Free and safe abortions in Italy are legally guaranteed since 1978 – yet over the past 20 years, access to abortion has diminished, with a 12.9 percent increase in the number of doctors who refuse to perform abortions on moral grounds, according to data from the Italian Ministry of Health (from 62.8 percent in 1997, since the data set began, to 70.9 in 2016, the highest percentage ever recorded).
Regional data shows even higher peaks. Throughout the years the worsening situation in the south and the islands has negatively influenced the national trend. Recently even in central Italy, despite good performance in the so-called “red” regions (Tuscany, Emilia Romagna), the negative performance of Lazio (Rome’s Region), with 78.8 percent of conscientious objectors in 2016, has decreased women’s access to abortion.
The only area where the percentage of conscientious objectors is decreasing is northern Italy – but in 2016, the last year for which data is available, even Lombardy and Piedmont, two of the richest regions with some of the best health systems, have seen an increased proportion of conscientious objectors.
Voluntary abortion is performed only in 60 percent of the country’s hospitals. Women often have to travel to other cities and regions, if not abroad, to access a health service guaranteed by the law. Giulia (her name has been changed due to media harassment) risked exceeding the 12-week deadline for a legal abortion because all of the hospitals she tried to access in Veneto, her region, and beyond kept refusing her due to a lac