Objectives: This study sought to determine whether a correlation exists in Italy between conscience-based refusal by physicians to perform an abortion and waiting times for elective abortion.
Methods: Data on the number of objectors and of elective abortions performed within different time intervals were retrieved from annual Italian ministerial reports. Spearman's correlation coefficients were calculated between an indicator of the increase in workload for non-objectors when conscientious objection is exercised by physicians refusing to provide an abortion and the proportion of women whose request for an abortion was met within 14 days, or later, in 13 regions in Italy.
Results: An inverse correlation emerged between the workload for non-objectors and the proportion of abortions performed within 14 days of the request in seven regions (statistically significant in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany). There was a direct correlation between increased workload and the proportion of abortions performed later than 21 days in nine regions. The same trends were highlighted at national level.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that when data spanning at least more than a decade are available, a trend toward an inverse correlation can be noted between the workloads for non-objectors and timely access to elective abortion. This holds organisational and ethical implications.
Keywords: Abortion; Conscience-based refusal of care; Health personnel; Italy; Waiting lists.