Italy doctors reignite “emergency contraception” conscience debate

Italy doctors reignite “emergency contraception” conscience debate


A long controversy in Italy about the “morning-after” pill revived on Wednesday after two women were reportedly denied prescriptions for the drug by pro-life doctors with conscientious objections to providing the drug, ANSA reports.

Both incidents reportedly took place in the Tuscan city of Pisa last month. 

One 20-year-old woman went to a public health clinic the day before Easter Sunday to obtain a prescription for the drug.  She found a notice on the door saying, “This office does not prescribe the so-called morning-after pill.”

A few days later, another woman was denied a prescription by a doctor who was on emergency duty at a Pisa hospital.

The “morning-after” pill must be taken within 72 hours of intercourse to prevent pregnancy.  It can work by suppressing a woman’s ovulation or hindering the transport of sperm or an egg.   The drug can also make it more difficult for a newly conceived embryo to implant in a woman’s uterus.

Rocco Damone, the health manager responsible for both the clinic and the hospital, said he would question the two doctors on Thursday.

“Their behavior could be against the code of conduct... The prescription of the morning-after pill has got nothing to do with the issue of conscientious objection,” Damone said.

Tuscany’s regional councilor for health, Enrico Rossi, said that access to the “morning-after” pill was a woman’s right doctors were obliged to respect.  He urged regional health managers to make their staff aware of this obligation.

Pisa public prosecutors also said they were investigating the matter.

Other leaders defended the doctors’ refusal to supply the prescriptions.

Outgoing Education Minister Giuseppe Fioroni said on Tuesday that “freedom of conscience is something that is clearly sanctioned by the Italian Constitution.”

The Vatican has argued that doctors should follow their consciences on the matter.  Last October, Pope Benedict said that pharmacists also had the “recognized right” to refuse to supply the pill.

The “morning-after” pill still requires a prescription in Italy, where it was introduced in 2000.