In 2013, the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (“CGIL”) filed a collective complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights alleging that Italy’s failure to ensure effective implementation of the abortion law in light of the high number of objecting medical personnel violated not only women’s rights to health and non-discrimination under the Revised European Social Charter, but also the rights of non-objecting medical practitioners with regard to their working conditions, including their rights to dignity and protection from discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
CGIL outlined that Italy’s failure to ensure effective implementation of the abortion law in light of the high number of objecting practitioners led to the deficiencies in women’s access to abortion care that were already confirmed in the findings of IPPF-EN v. Italy. Since that decision, as CGIL detailed, the violations had continued because the state had failed to remedy the situation.
CGIL also focused on the impact of the high number of objectors on those medical practitioners willing to provide abortion care. In particular, CGIL provided that career development of non-objecting practitioners suffered due to their excessive, almost exclusively abortion-focused workload; that the burdens of travel and excessive work hours necessary to meet women’s abortion needs fell exclusively on non-objecting practitioners; that they often had to provide other abortion-related services themselves when supporting functionaries, such as anesthesiologists and assistants, were unavailable; and that career advancement opportunities went primarily to conscientious objectors, discriminating against non-objecting practitioners. CGIL additionally cited to instances where the government had failed to ensure the protection of non-objecting medical practitioners from “intense pressure” and even “genuine ‘mobbing.’”
The Committee reaffirmed its findings from IPPF-EN v. Italy with regard to women’s access to abortion care. It found that the deficiencies in abortion service provision caused by the high number of objecting personnel remained unremedied and that women continued to face significant difficulties in accessing abortion care in practice. The Committee further held that this situation forced women to travel to obtain care, or in some cases prevented them from obtaining care altogether, resulting in intersecting forms of discrimination on the grounds of territorial, socio-economic, and/or health status. As a result, the Committee found Italy to be in violation of the right to protection of health as well as its obligation to ensure protection against discrimination in relation to the right to protection of health.
Regarding the impact of widespread refusals of abortion care on non-objecting providers, the Committee held that Italy was obligated to protect non-objecting medical practitioners from being disadvantaged at work “simply on the basis that [they] provide abortion services in accordance with the law.” The Committee additionally outlined that states must take “preventative action to ensure that moral harassment does not occur in situations where harassment is likely,” and to inform workers about available remedies. It found that non-objecting providers faced cumulative disadvantages in terms of workload, distribution of tasks, and career development opportunities, and that the government had failed to take proactive measures to ensure the protection of non-objecting medical practitioners. Thus, the Committee held Italy to be in violation of the rights to non-discriminatory treatment in employment and to dignity at work.
CGIL also alleged that work conditions for non-objecting personnel violated the prohibition on forced labor, the right to just conditions of work, and the prohibition of discrimination against non-objecting practitioners in favor of objecting personnel. However, the Committee found CGIL’s evidence insufficient to establish violations with respect to forced labor and safe work conditions. Separately, it found no need to consider the issue of discrimination under Article E, given its findings under other provisions.