Do European women have the right to choose to terminate their pregnancy? The right to abortion in the year of the pandemic in Europe and in Italy

The last months of 2020 have been complex from various points of view, and unfortunately no less has been the debate regarding the right of women to abortion.

Questioned, hindered, the subject of disputes and more stringent legislative provisions, a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy does not seem to have found fertile ground even in Europe, even when the life of the pregnant woman is at stake.

Let's take a closer look at the European situation in general and the Italian one in particular.

Europe: these are the countries where women have the most difficulty in legally aborting

Just this week, the news of a massive demonstration held in Warsaw, still ongoing despite the risks related to the spread of Coronavirus, of thousands of women claiming the right to legally abort.

The Polish law is, indeed, one of the most severe in terms of termination of pregnancy, and now the grip will be further exacerbated due to a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court. This decision took place following the reintroduction of a bill dating back to 2018 during the lockdown of the discussion.

Following the legislative reform, women in Poland will only be able to abort in the event of rape or incest or in the event of a life threatening mother, while it will no longer be possible to act in the event of fetal malformations.

Only 2% of abortions in Poland fall into this category, clearly indicating that the law is absolutely inadequate to protect the safety of its citizens.

In 2019, the UN stated that access to abortion in a safe and legal manner was an essential health service, providing the foundation for guaranteeing women their right to autonomy, equality and physical and mental well-being.

Now, in 2020, the UN itself coined the expression shadow pandemic to allude to all the negative consequences related to the right to abortion during the lockdown.

Just think of the difficulties in moving, the risk or the inability to go to health facilities to terminate an unwanted pregnancy with an ongoing pandemic.

And then, as if that weren't enough, significant legislative innovations were added such as the Polish one.

The Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights and International Planned Parenthood jointly produced a report for the European Council, which clearly showed that at least 78% of European consultants remained totally closed during the worst months of the pandemic, and probably the percentage would be confirmed in the event of new total closures of the states.

In particular, the greatest difficulties in having an abortion were found in Spain, Ireland, Albania, Romania and Croatia, as well as, surprisingly, in Germany.

A positive note came from France, which extended the possibility of using the abortion pill over a longer period of time than previously provided.

The situation in Italy - Ru486 and regional laws

Since 1978, termination of pregnancy has been considered legal in Italy, but actually the high rate of conscientious objecting doctors makes the exercise of this right often a mere illusion.

Looking at the worst percentages, objecting gynecologists are 92.3% in Molise, 87.2% in the province of Bolzano, 82.7% in Sicily and 82.3% in Puglia and Basilicata.

The reference legislation in Italy is Law No.194 of 22 May 1978, which establishes that a pregnancy can be terminated only if it involves a danger to the physical or mental health of the woman, with different limitations depending on the period between the conception and when you intend to use abortion.

Also of interest is the report on the impossibility for Dutch women to find the abortion pill in places other than clinics, while in Malta abortion is even completely prohibited.

Slovakia also suspended abortion operations altogether as they were deemed non-essential.

It is therefore not difficult to understand what consequences were inevitable for the many women who, unable to have an abortion in their own country, were not even able to go abroad due to the restrictions linked to the spread of the pandemic.

In the first trimester, therefore within the first 90 days, abortion is allowed provided that the pregnant woman declares that the continuation of the pregnancy may represent a danger to her physical or mental health.

After the first trimester has elapsed, it is only allowed in cases where a doctor detects such risks.

Starting from the second trimester, in particular, Article 6 provides that abortion can take place when pregnancy or childbirth involves a serious danger to the life of the woman or when pathological processes are ascertained, including those relating to significant anomalies or malformations of the unborn child, which cause a serious danger to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; in this case we speak of therapeutic abortion.

The law does not define a limit for therapeutic abortion, but recommends that where the fetus has reached a stage of development that allows it to survive outside the uterus, the doctor takes all the necessary interventions to safeguard its life.

This implies that concretely there is a tendency not to proceed beyond the twenty-second or twenty-fourth week, while always taking into account the compatibility of the fetal pathology with the possibility of autonomous life.

To proceed beyond this timeframe, in the event of a concrete risk to a woman's life, the law specifies that "the doctor who performs the surgery must take all appropriate measures to safeguard the life of the fetus".

Since 2009 also in our country it is possible to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy with the pharmacological method, thanks to the marketing of the RU486 pill.

In most of the countries where RU486 is used, this procedure is carried out on a simple outpatient or home basis. Where foreseen, in the rest of Europe the abortion pill can be taken within 9 weeks, in Italy the limit is set at 7 and is subject to the intake of two drugs 48 hours apart with ordinary hospitalization until expulsion of the product of conception, actually consisting of at least three days in hospital or outpatient.

This assumption was the subject of harsh criticism and debates even in the time of Covid, given that the decision to impose a compulsory hospitalization, lasting more or less long depending on the Region of reference, does not seem to be supported by scientific data that justify the taxation.

Not to mention the sad testimonies of mothers forced to resort to abortion due to fetal malformations, who found themselves in spite of themselves the protagonists of pro-life associations which, in spite of any protection of privacy, found an allocation to the fetuses not born in municipal cemeteries and the name of the pregnant women is shown on the cross, without obtaining any consent from the families.

In light of the regulations in force, it seems clear that there is still a long way to go from guaranteeing the full and effective right of choice for European women to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

Translated by Veronica Giustiniani


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  • L'Autore

    Giorgia Corvasce

    Giorgia Corvasce si laurea nel 2018 in Giurisprudenza presso l’Università Cattolica di Milano, dopo aver frequentato il biennio di specializzazione ad indirizzo internazionale.

    Immediatamente dopo, inizia il percorso di pratica forense occupandosi di diritto civile contenzioso e stragiudiziale, per poi appassionarsi al diritto di famiglia.

    La sua conoscenza delle lingue straniere e la passione per il diritto internazionale tuttavia non vengono abbandonate, e la seguono nel suo percorso di crescita professionale sino ad approdare in un noto studio legale a vocazione internazionale di Milano nel 2020.

    Contemporaneamente, inizia la sua collaborazione con Mondo Internazionale, dapprima come autore del progetto Legalytics, oggi Diritto e Società, dove si occupa prevalentemente di tematiche legate ai diritti umani e al gender gap, e poi ottenendo la carica di Coordinatore per le Attività Internazionali dell’associazione, dove sviluppa le sue doti di diplomazia e rafforza i rapporti con le sedi estere aiutata dalla sua ottima conoscenza del francese.

    Mondo Internazionale le permette di mettere a frutto le sue capacità e le sue inclinazioni, stringendo forti legami umani in tutto il globo per il perseguimento di uno scopo condiviso.

    Giorgia Corvasce graduated in 2018 in Law at the Catholic University of Milan, after attending the two-year specialization program with an international orientation.

    Immediately, she began her career becoming a trainee laywer for a firm specialized in civil law and family law l.

    Her knowledge of foreign languages and her passion for international law, however, are not abandoned, and they follow her in her career path until reaching a well-known international law firm in Milan in 2020.

    At the same time, she began her collaboration with Mondo Internazionale, first as author of the project Legalytics, now Law and Society, where she mainly writes about topic related to human rights and gender gap, and then obtaining the role of Coordinator for the International Activities of the association, where she develops her skills of diplomacy and she strengthens relations with foreign offices helped by his excellent knowledge of French.

    Mondo Internazionale allows her to make a difference, to tight strong human connections around the globe in order to reach a shared goal.


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