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Data discrepancies: Italian ministry reports on abortion, contextualised
  1. Danielle Pullan1,2,
  2. Payton Gannon3,4
  1. 1Cologne Center for Comparative Politics, University of Cologne, Köln, Germany
  2. 2Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Köln, Germany
  3. 3Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, District of Columbia, USA
  4. 4Bocconi University, Milano, Italy
  1. Correspondence to Danielle Pullan, Cologne Center for Comparative Politics, University of Cologne, Köln, 50931, Germany; pullan{at}mpifg.de

Abstract

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.

  • Ethics
  • Sexual medicine
  • Health policy

Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository. Reports by the Italian Ministry of Health are published on their website: https://www.salute.gov.it/portale/documentazione/p6_2_2.jsp. Searching in the documentation portal for keywords like 'interruzione' or '194' return several years’ reports, but not all years for which the report was generated. It is unclear to the authors why some reports remain available and others have been removed. The most recent report published in October 2023 with data from 2021 is available in pdf and xls format here: https://www.salute.gov.it/portale/documentazione/p6_2_2_1.jsp?lingua=italiano&id=3367.

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Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository. Reports by the Italian Ministry of Health are published on their website: https://www.salute.gov.it/portale/documentazione/p6_2_2.jsp. Searching in the documentation portal for keywords like 'interruzione' or '194' return several years’ reports, but not all years for which the report was generated. It is unclear to the authors why some reports remain available and others have been removed. The most recent report published in October 2023 with data from 2021 is available in pdf and xls format here: https://www.salute.gov.it/portale/documentazione/p6_2_2_1.jsp?lingua=italiano&id=3367.

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Footnotes

  • X @dmpullan

  • Contributors Both authors contributed equally to the ideas, analysis, and writing of this article. DP handled formatting and tasks related to submission and acts as guarantor.

  • Funding DP received a monthly scholarship from the University of Cologne for maintenance during her PhD. She has also received travel reimbursements from the American Political Science Association and the Max Planck Society for work unrelated to this paper. PG has been paid for work as a research assistant at Georgetown University Law Center on an unrelated project. PG was supported by the US-Italy Fulbright commission in 2021–2022 for field research that informed this paper.

  • Competing interests The authors declare no competing interests.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer-reviewed.