Spurning abortion in Italy

For several years the number of abortions in Italy has been declining steadily and the past year was no exception

While the United Nations and its various agencies, such as UN Women, are forcefully advocating reproductive rights and all that they intend the phrase to mean (such as abortion), the people of one developed country have been consistently moving away from this barbaric practice. The country in question is Italy and the news stems from the latest Annual Report to Parliament of the Italian Ministry of Health on the status of abortion. 

For several years the number of abortions in Italy has been declining steadily and the past year was no exception. Preliminary data for 2013 indicate that the number of abortions in Italy, estimated at 102,644, declined 4.2% from the year before and fell by more than 56% compared with the peak year of 1982. Abortion was introduced in Italy by Law 194 of 1978 and soon thereafter the numbers rose rapidly in the ensuing five years [1] then began to decline almost uninterruptedly until the present.

Italy has one of the most comprehensive abortions reporting systems of any major country, details and data collection are mandated by the same Law and the results tell an interesting story.

Definitive data for 2012 indicated a decline in abortions of 3.8% and showed that 34% of the total was attributable to foreign women either residing or traveling to Italy, up from only 7% in 1995, but the share seems to have stabilized at around one-third after several years of growth. Declines occurred for the first time in 2011 and 2012. Just over half of the foreigners were from Eastern Europe where the culture of abortion under the communist system was ingrained.

Data for Italian women, who account for two-thirds of all abortions, has shown a continuous decline since 2005 and in 2012 the numbers fell 3.1% compared with the previous year. As for repeat abortions, 27% of all abortions last year were had by women who previously aborted but the rate was 21% for Italians and nearly 38% for foreigners.

Abortion has declined faster among better educated women who are working and married. Women with either a middle or high school education accounted for 85.3% of all abortions while those holding an advanced degree accounted for only 9.0% of the total. About half of all abortions were obtained by unmarried women, 50.3%, while married women accounted for 42.7% of the total and separated or divorced women were responsible for 6.6%.

Youth abortion is very low in Italy. Among minors (defined in Italy as under the age of 18) the rate was 4.4 per 1,000 women, down from 4.5% in the prior two years. Comparable data for other major countries, where available, (measured for a more ample age group) underscore this point:

Abortion rates per 1,000 live births to women under age 20. (Data refer to 2012.)

Switzerland: 4.4
Italy: 6.3
Germany: 7.9
Norway: 11.4
Spain: 12.9
Romania: 16.5
England & Wales: 18.0
Sweden: 18.8

According to Law 196/78, women desiring an abortion in Italy must obtain prior certification (certificazione) and there is a lag between certification and the procedure. Data show that 61.5% occurred within a 14-day period. For minors having recourse to abortion, 73% obtained parental consent, and these numbered 2,308, while 808 or 25.6% obtained judicial consent.

A better yardstick to measure the prevalence of abortion is the number of abortions per 1,000 live births. This was 203.8/1,000 in 2012, an increase of 0.3% due to a drop in live births that year. According to ISTAT (the Italian Statistics Institute), the number of newborns in 2012 fell 2.3%, the fourth consecutive annual decline. This phenomenon was attributed to the continuing economic crisis and the high unemployment rate for young people. The youth unemployment rate in Italy was 44% at the last reading (August 2014). Hence young people are deterred both from marriage and childbearing.

Associated with the decline of abortions is the rising number of conscientious objectors among the Italian medical community. In 2012, 70% of gynecologists, 48% of anesthesiologists and 45% of non-medical personnel refused to have anything to do with abortions. In six of Italy’s 21 regions the conscientious objector rate was over 80%, including the region of Lazio where Rome is located.

Italy currently has a center-left government and a woman as Minister of Health, Beatrice Lorenzin. In view of declining abortion rates and the large and rising number of conscientious objector doctors, a meeting was held at the Chamber of Deputies in July 2013 that resulted in the formation of a “technical committee” to monitor even more closely abortion activity and observe the impact of conscientious objection wherever abortions are performed. Inter alia, the Minister was concerned about the average weekly workload of abortionists and whether adequate “services” were being rendered.

In Italy there are 630 hospitals and other medical facilities that have obstetric/gynecological departments, but of these only 64% permit a “voluntary interruption of pregnancy” as abortion is formally referred to in Italy.

Since Italy has abortion on demand, data show that about 1% affected pregnancies over 21 weeks. The largest number of abortions was had by women in the 30-34 year age group, which accounted for 21.5% of the total. Most of the abortions performed in Italy (58%) are done via the Karman method.

Even though abortion is legal in Italy, the Ministry of Health Annual Report includes data on “complications” that occur during the procedure. In 2012, complications resulting from abortions occurred in 9.2% of all cases including hemorrhaging 2.3%, infections 0.2% and “other” and “not specified” 6.7%. Perhaps the United Nations should note this when they tout legal abortions as “safe”.

[1] Clandestine abortions before 1978 were estimated at 220,000 to 500,000 per year according to the latest Ministry of Health Annual Report.

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About Vincenzina Santoro 8 Articles
Vincenzina Santoro is an international economist. She represents the American Family Association of New York at the United Nations.