An Italian hospital’s decision to hire two medics to perform abortions has sparked a Catholic backlash in a country where most doctors refuse to terminate pregnancies, often for religious reasons.
Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978 under what is known as “Law 194”, with the procedure allowed up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy for medical or personal reasons, and beyond that for medical reasons only.
But about 70 percent of Italian doctors decline to perform them, as is their legal right under Law 194.
Abortion rights groups say this has led many women to seek unsafe terminations, putting their health at risk — and even sometimes their lives.
Two specialised obstetricians are due to start work at Rome’s San Camillo public hospital in the coming days after responding to a job advertisement that notably said they would carry out abortions.
But the ad sparked criticism from the Catholic church, which said the job description meant any doctors planning to use their right to refuse to carry out abortions would be ruled out of the running.
“It’s a distortion of the Law 194, whose goal wasn’t to encourage abortion but to prevent it,” said Father Carmine Arice, health director of the Italian Episcopal Conference, in an interview with the newspaper La Repubblica published Thursday.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini also spoke out against the hospital’s decision, blasting it as “another demonstration of the tendency to challenge and block conscientious objection”.
The Italian government added to the criticism, with Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin saying the law “did not plan for that type of selection”.
Regional health chief Nicola Zingaretti rejected the complaints, insisting that “conscientious objection is 100 percent guaranteed” for the two hospital positions.
Zingaretti said the job description did not exclude doctors who objected to abortion, but “it does lay out clearly what role will be performed upon hiring and that will effectively be part of the contract”.
The case is being closely watched in other Italian regions where the rates of doctors refusing to perform termination are even higher — particularly in the deeply conservative south.
In the Molise region, over 90 percent refuse to perform the procedure.
Abortions in Italy have gone down from nearly 235,000 in 1982 to fewer than 100,000 in 2014, according to official figures — though the data could be incomplete because of women who seek unsafe terminations.