Behind the numbers: 70% of Italian doctors refuse to perform abortions

Article published on March 21, 2016
Article published on March 21, 2016

In Italy, abortion has always been a difficult subject, eliciting much opposition. When it comes to conscientious objection, the numbers are staggering: 7 out of 10 doctors refuse to perform abortions.

1978 was an important year for women’s rights: it was the year Law 194 was past, legalising the voluntary termination of pregnancy in Italy. However, nearly 30 years later, it’s still a really battle for women seeking abortions. This is not only because of the physical and emotional implications brought on by the procedure, but also because it still proves difficult to find a doctor willing to conduct it.

According to a recent study by the Italian Ministry of Health – examining data from 2013 and 2014 – 70% of Italian doctors refuse to carry out abortions. This number is an increase on 2005, in which 59% of doctors polled were conscientious objectors.

This phenomenon presents a real obstacle to women’s right as established by law, since it can be a race against time to gain access to the service. Publicly funded health centres are obliged to hire non-objecting doctors, but often they are in too short supply to meet demand. This significantly slows down the procedure and can lead to devastating consequences for patients and the overworking of doctors willing to carry out the service. In certain regions the level of conscientious objectors surpasses 90%, for example in Molise (93.3%) and Basilicata (90.2%).

A further study from Ipsos highlights that, in comparison to other European countries, the Italian population is more likely to think that abortions should only be practised in cases where the mother is in danger.

Women who want to have an abortion must wait to find a doctor who does not object to the practice, and hope that the waiting list isn’t too long – adding weight to an already difficult decision.


This article is part of our Behind the Numbers series, illustrating newsworthy stats with artistic design and a brief analysis.