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Journal Article

Data Discrepancies: Italian Ministry Reports on Abortion, Contextualised


Pullan,  Danielle       
International Max Planck Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;
Cologne Center for Comparative Politics, University of Cologne, Germany;

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Pullan, D., & Gannon, P. (2024). Data Discrepancies: Italian Ministry Reports on Abortion, Contextualised. Medical Humanities. doi:10.1136/medhum-2023-012852.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000F-4F22-3
The Italian Ministry of Health reports annually on activities related to abortion and fertility, providing quantitative data that looks ripe for analysis. Actors ranging from activists to medical providers to European courts have criticised the data as misleading, but the Ministry reports have not changed. In this piece, we bring together different perspectives on this data from inside and outside academia and offer guidance on how it should—and should not—be used in research.

In this article, we collect a wide variety of publications ranging from civil society groups’ reports to court decisions, academic articles and investigative reporting and harmonise the way they engage with the Italian Ministry of Health’s data regarding abortion and particularly conscientious objection.

Analyses rooted in the demographic and medical data about abortion seekers, the abortion rates over time, the different methods of abortion, etc are trustworthy and can be used to extrapolate levels of abortion access. This dataset on conscientious objectors systematically undercounts objectors, implying a false equivalence between people who do not object and people who actually work in an abortion service. We recommend that the Ministry report both the number of objectors and the number of medical doctors working in abortion services.

The Italian Ministry of Health produces some valuable data about abortion, but conscientious objection is the key feature of abortion access in Italy, and this key datapoint is flawed. The Ministry could improve clarity and increase citizens’ trust in government reports by adding data on the number of abortion providers.