The death of a pregnant Italian woman after a doctor in a city in Sicily refused to perform an abortion on her when she was facing complications with her unborn fetuses has sparked a debate about abortion in the country.
Valentina Milluzzo, 32, died on Sunday, Oct. 16, a day after losing her unborn twins through a miscarriage at the Cannizzaro Hospital in Catania.
According to ANSA, Milluzzo had been admitted to the hospital for more than two weeks before she and her unborn twins died. She was allegedly taken to the hospital in the 19th week of her pregnancy after going into labor prematurely.
Valentina Milluzzo’s family lawyer told Italian media that when one of her unborn children was suffering from breathing difficulties, she asked a doctor at the hospital to abort the fetuses. However, the doctor allegedly refused because he is a “conscientious objector” to abortion.
According to the lawyer, the doctor declined to intervene and took no action as Milluzzo’s unborn children struggled and eventually died hours later on Oct. 15.
After losing her babies, Milluzo’s condition reportedly worsened, and she got an infection. Although she was transferred to the intensive care unit, she died the next day, the BBC reported.
While the doctor’s alleged refusal to abort her fetuses has been blamed for Valentina Milluzo’s death, representatives of the Cannizzaro Hospital have denied any culpability in the case.
The head of the Cannizaro Hospital, Angelo Pellicano, told Italian media that the lawyer’s account of the incident is wrong.
“There was no conscientious objection on behalf of the doctor that intervened in this case because there was no voluntary termination of the pregnancy, but [the miscarriage] was forced by the grave circumstances,” Pellicano explained.
Meanwhile, Dr. Paolo Scollo, the President of Italy’s Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who works at the Cannizaro Hospital, has also disputed the lawyer’s account of the case.
He explained that although all the doctors in his department are “conscientious objectors” to abortion, patients’ requests for abortions are granted by specialists who are invited to carry out the procedure.
Italian prosecutors have reportedly opened an investigation into the case. Valentina Milluzo’s burial has allegedly been postponed so that a post-mortem can be carried out on her body, the BBC reported.
According to ANSA, about 12 doctors from the Cannizaro Hospital’s obstetrician and gynecologist department have been put under investigation as part of the probe into the incident. Health inspectors were set to visit the hospital in Catania on Thursday.
Prosecutors say the doctor who attended to Valentino Milluzzo is not registered as a “conscientious objector.”
Since 1978, it has been legal in Italy for women to seek an abortion in the first 90 days of their pregnancy due to health, economic, or social reasons. In some cases where the pregnancy puts the mother’s health at risk, the law allows women to seek an abortion up to five months (20 weeks) into their pregnancy, according to Pandeia. However, it is also legal for doctors to refuse to help a woman terminate her pregnancy on the grounds of being a “conscientious objector” to abortion.
Despite the constitutional provision, women in Italy reportedly find it hard to find a doctor to carry out abortion for them because a significant percentage of doctors in several regions of the country are “conscientious objectors.” Dr. Silvana Agatone, an Italian gynecologist, told the New York Times that a phone survey she conducted showed that out of the 10,000 gynecologists in Italy only 1,200 of them agree to perform abortions.
Ironically, Pandeia reported that a 2012 survey in Italy showed that up to 60 percent of the respondents supported the right to abortion as against just 26 percent who opposed it.
[Featured Image by comzeal/iStock Photo]