A report by the Italian ministry of health has said that some 70 percent of doctors in the country are now refusing to perform abortions on moral grounds.
Abortion was legalised in 1978 in Italy but pressure from the Vatican -- which is strongly opposed to abortion -- enabled doctors to claim a "conscientious objection" clause and refuse to carry out terminations.
AdvertisementBetween 2003 and 2007 the number of gynecologists claiming the conscience clause to avoid carrying out abortions rose from 58.7 percent to 69.2 percent, according to the report.
For anesthetists helping in abortions, the figure of those refusing to participate rose from 45.7 percent to 50.4 percent.
"In the south, this increase is even more pronounced and in certain areas the rate has almost doubled," the report adds. In Campania, the region around Naples, the proportion of gynecologists refusing to carry out the procedure reached 83 percent, and in Sicily 84.2 percent.
Meanwhile, the number of abortions has dropped slightly. Between 2006 and 2007 it fell from 131,018 to 127,038, a decrease of three percent.
Illegal abortions are also declining, according to the ministry, and stand at around 15,000 a year.
"Abortion law is in danger", with the option to have a termination "more and more resembling an obstacle course," Milan gynecologist and pro-choice advocate Silvio Viale told ANSA news agency.
Attacks on the right to abortion became a major issue in the recent legislative elections, with polemics from the Catholic Church, and the creation of an anti-abortion party by a close friend of Silvio Berlusconi, journalist Giulio Ferrara -- although he only received 0.37 percent of the vote.
A police raid on an abortion clinic in Naples to check it was obeying the 24-week upper limit on terminations aroused great controversy recently.