Abortion policy

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Grounds on which abortion is permitted:
To save the life of the woman Yes

To preserve physical health Yes

To preserve mental health Yes

Rape or incest Yes

Foetal impairment Yes

Economic or social reasons Yes

Available on request Yes
Additional requirements:
A one-week reflection period is imposed unless the situation is one of urgency. A certificate attesting to the pregnancy and the request for termination must be issued by a physician and signed by both the woman and the physician. If the pregnant woman is under age 18, parental authorization is required. After the first three months of pregnancy, abortion is allowed only if the foetus has a genetic deficiency or to preserve the physical and mental health of the mother. An abortion must be performed in a public hospital or authorized private facility.


Government view on fertility level: Too low

Government intervention concerning fertility level: No intervention
Government policy on contraceptive use: Indirect support provided
Percentage of currently married women using

modern contraception (aged 18-44,*1979): 32

Total fertility rate (1995-2000): 1.2
Age-specific fertility rate (per 1,000 women aged 15-19, 1995-2000): 7
Government has expressed particular concern about:

Morbidity and mortality resulting from induced abortion No

Complications of childbearing and childbirth No
Maternal mortality ratio (per 100,000 live births, 1990):

National 12

Developed countries 27
Female life expectancy at birth (1995-2000): 81.2
* Women in first marriage. Use since last pregnancy (since marriage, if no pregnancy).


Until the 1970s, the Italian Penal Code of 1930 prohibited publicity on contraception and the performance of abortions, except when the life of the pregnant woman was threatened. In 1971, however, the Constitutional Court ruled that the provisions of the Code relating to contraception were unconstitutional, and in 1975 it held that the abortion provisions were also unconstitutional in so far as they prohibited abortion when there was no other means of preventing a serious threat to the pregnant woman’s health. In addition, in 1975, the provisions of the Civil Code relating to family and the status of women were revised (among other things, divorce was legalized), and a law establishing family planning counselling centres and permitting them to dispense contraceptive information and services was enacted. Lastly, on 22 May 1978, Law No. 194, which liberalized abortion was approved.
Under the Law, abortion is legal during the first 90 days of pregnancy when the continuation of pregnancy, childbirth, or motherhood would seriously endanger the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman, taking into account her state of health, her economic, social or family situation, the circumstances under which conception occurred or the likelihood that the child would be born with abnormalities or malformations. A woman who desires to have her pregnancy interrupted on any of the grounds given above must apply to a duly authorized health or welfare agency or a physician of her choice. If she applies to an agency, the agency must examine possible solutions to the problem in consultation with the woman, must help her overcome the factors inducing her to terminate her pregnancy and must encourage suitable measures designed to support her. If she applies to a physician, he or she must inform her of her rights and of the availability of social welfare facilities.
If the woman persists in her request to terminate the pregnancy, the physician must issue a certificate, signed by himself and by the woman, attesting to her pregnancy and her request. Following a reflection period of seven days, the woman may present herself with the certificate to an authorized medical facility to obtain the requested intervention. The reflection period is not required in urgent cases, such as those involving a threat to the woman's life. If the pregnant woman is under age 18, parental authorization is required, unless there are serious reasons rendering this impossible or inadvisable. In this case, and if the parents refuse to give their consent, the magistrate responsible for guardianship matters can issue the necessary authorization.
After the first trimester of pregnancy, abortion is allowed only to save the woman's life or when the mother's physical or mental health is endangered (such as by foetal impairment). Penalties may be levied on the person performing the abortion and on the woman when the termination of pregnancy occurs outside of the legal provisions. An abortion must be performed in a public hospital or authorized private facility and is free of charge. Medical and paramedical personnel that are opposed to abortion on moral or religious grounds can declare in advance their conscientious objection and be exempted from performing or assisting in the performance of an abortion.
The law adopted in 1978 was viewed as one of the most liberal abortion laws in Western Europe. The new law, in fact, provides such broad grounds on which abortion is permitted that it has been interpreted by some as allowing abortion on request—although the law does not specifically contain such a provision—because it is the woman herself who attests that she is in one of the situations described by the law and the primary role of the physician is to certify the existence of a pregnancy.
In practice, however, the situation is very different, and it varies considerably from one region of the country to another. The conscience clause is partially responsible for many of the difficulties in availability of services. Moreover, a major reason is the strong influence of the Holy See. When Law No. 194 was approved, the Holy See immediately issued a warning that any person performing an abortion and any woman obtaining an abortion would be excommunicated. Owing to the political pressure exerted by the Catholic Church on members of the Christian Democratic Party and the fear of some physicians that their medical practice would consist largely of the performance of abortions, nearly 70 per cent of the physicians in Italy and a majority of other health-care professionals have invoked the conscience clause. The situation is more dramatic in southern Italy, where in some regions the proportion of physicians resorting to the conscience clause exceeds 90 per cent. In many smaller hospitals, there are no personnel willing to perform an abortion.
Because of the high proportion of gynaecologists that are conscientious objectors and the lack of hospital facilities, in some areas of Italy the delay between the issuance of a certificate and the intervention is at least three weeks. In addition, not all areas have family planning centres, as provided by the law of 1975. Sex education programmes are not provided in schools and the Government has no special programmes for family planning; two thirds of the women nationwide either do not use contraceptives or depend upon less reliable traditional methods.

Source: Population Policy Data Bank maintained by the Population Division of the Department for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. For additional sources, see list of references.

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