The US Supreme Court decision on Roe vs Wade – it is worth remembering that it was a ruling on privacy and not on abortion; and that many had promised to strengthen it with a federal law on abortion but then forgot about it – it may be an occasion to ask ourselves how is the right to abortion in Italy. And discover that it is not a right in the strong sense: the law 194 which regulates it in fact lists the conditions under which it is no longer a crime to abort but does not provide for not wanting to carry on a pregnancy, not wanting a child or not wanting another. The concessive and defensive spirit of the law is a fine trouble, perhaps its original sin. Which could be forgiven, at least in part, if the law were applied well. But is it?
We do not know. For a trivial and obvious reason: to answer and to speak sensibly about it, we need data. And the data we have is closed and therefore only partially useful. We are told that 93.4 percent of abortions are done within 12 weeks (56 percent within 8 weeks); that the national average of objecting gynecologists is 64.4 per cent or that in Molise it reaches 82.8. But the data that the Health Authority of Molise (Asrem) sent to me and Sonia Montegiove last summer tell us something different, both as a percentage and above all as information: in August 2021 in Molise it was possible to terminate a pregnancy only in one hospital, in Campobasso, where there were two non-objecting doctors out of 29. Today apparently there is only one non-objecting doctor and drug abortion is hardly used.
To really know the state of application of Law 194 we should know what happens in each structure. Not only the number of conscientious objectors, but all the indicators that the Ministry of Health deems useful and that it uses for the annual report.
To those criteria we should add others, such as non-objectors who do not carry out abortions and a study on the training of health workers and trainees, on the quality of the service offered and information, on the ease of obtaining them. And on the actual receipt of the guidelines on RU486, drug abortion. Is there in all regions the possibility of using this technique instead of surgery? Can it be done on an outpatient basis?
We have a broken, blurry, old map. A map like this is useless. It is not useful for those who want to know if the law is well applied and not for women who want – would like – to choose where to go and to know if there is an abortion service in the nearby hospital and if they can choose between surgical and pharmacological.
Can it be remedied? Certainly. Starting with opening the data. Which is obviously not enough, just as having a map of the place we have to reach is not enough to rule out accidents or unforeseen events. But it is a necessary condition, because surely with an old map or without a specific address you will not arrive at your destination. How to do? Using technology and copying those who have already done so, such as the United Kingdom or Spain but also the Lombardy region. The latter has a model that could be reused, at no cost, to have the data in stream format. Not from 2020, not closed by region.
Why don’t we do it? Why does the Ministry of Health publish a closed pdf with the data from two years ago instead of opening them, ignoring the Foia (Freedom of information act, which guarantees the right of access to information held by public administrations)? The suspicion is that when you have well illuminated the defects you can no longer pretend not to know them and you cannot continue not to solve them.
Article 9 of Law 194 is interpreted very roughly
In addition to the need for the data, we know for sure that Article 9 of Law 194 is interpreted very loosely. Even if conscientious objection is foreseen for “activities specifically and necessarily aimed at bringing about the termination of pregnancy”, it does not seem to be a problem for anyone who also objects to anesthetists and health care workers. Because? Even if the objection cannot be used for “assistance before and after the intervention”, non-objectors do not always guarantee this assistance before and after the intervention. Because?
Corrado Guzzanti as Father Pizzarro was right when he suggested that the best strategy is the indirect one to solve the horrible scourge of legal abortion. “We continue to place conscientious objectors everywhere.” And then postpone and postpone. The pill “arrives in nine months, hello panzo ‘”.
Finally, it is perhaps difficult to avoid the central question: is the freedom to have an abortion morally defensible? Yes, it would be morally repugnant to ban it. It would also be impossible. Because the only alternative is the obligation of pregnancy and every time I ask myself: but how? That is, how do we stop women from looking for a solution, from ordering Cytotec (an ulcer drug that also causes abortion) or from going elsewhere? Do we check women who are fertile and potentially at risk of pregnancy? And then we close them in a building intended for the protection of the lineage? At least conservatives and those who condemn abortion should tell us how to do it.
This article appeared in issue 34 of the Essential, page 4.