March 11, 2013 ( – The number of Italian obstetrician-gynecologists opting out of abortion has risen precipitously in recent years.

As a result, some are calling for restrictions on the right of conscientious objection by physicians, in order protect the “right” of women to obtain abortions enshrined in Italy's Law 194, passed in 1978.

According to Gynecologists for the Application of Law 194/78 (LAIGA), not only are abortion practitioners in sharp decline, but those availing themselves of conscientious objection are concentrated heavily among the youngest doctors in the country. The group complains that in some regions of the country, the number of conscientious objectors has reached eighty and, even ninety percent.

Official government figures indicate a sharp increase in conscientious objectors among gynecologists, rising from 58.7% in 2005, the first year of Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate, to over 70% just two years later. The figure has continued to hover around 70% since then. 

However, according to LAIGA and its allies the figure is much greater in some parts of the country, reaching up to 90% of gynecologists, some of whom have not been counted officially as objectors. 

“LAIGA has confirmed the gap with data from [the province of] Lazio. In that region the difference between the official objectors (80%) and those who are effectively objectors (91%) is eleven percent,” said researcher Sara Martelli at a recent LAIGA conference. 

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“This requires the health care system to compensate with interns and consultants who cost more and aren't always able to do therapeutic abortions.”

“Furthermore it turns out that the non-objecting doctors are concentrated in the age group of 35 to 50 year-olds (some have reached the age of retirement) while conscientious objection is very widespread among the youngest,” complained Martelli. 

The shortage is causing a “notable” expense, Martelli added, and claimed that the situation is a violation of law 194. “No accredited public or private hospital can exempt itself from the application of the law.”

Two other researchers sympathetic with LAIGA went further. Drs. Valeria Galanti and Emanuela Borzacchiello have written an analysis of the scarcity of abortionists in Italy using LAIGA's data. They fear that “in Italy, non-objecting physicians are already very few, and according to data from the Ministry of Health, are on their way to extinction.”  They conclude that conscientious objection among gynecologists “must be regulated.”

Claiming that abortion is an internationally established “right” that must be “balanced” with the right of conscientious objection, the two researchers opine that “there is a necessity of better organization, so that one freedom ends where the other begins. What is necessary is a culture of tradeoffs between fundamental rights (…) which are, in truth, firmly established, both at the national and international level.”

However, according to Stefano Gennarini at the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (CFAM), abortion is not recognized as a right in any international treaty or other binding document of international law.

“If anything, there are several UN treaties that have pro-natalist provisions, provisions that say that children should be protected, including the preamble to the convention on the rights of the child, as well as the prohibition for prescribing the death penalty for pregnant women, for example,” he told in an interview last week.


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