Outcry after two women refused morning-after pill

An Italian gyneocologist has called for a nurse to be suspended after she refused to give two women the morning-after pill on “ethical grounds”, even though the emergency contraceptive has been legal in Italy for 14 years.

Outcry after two women refused morning-after pill
The two women were refused the morning-after pill. Morning-after pill: Shutterstock

The women, in their twenties, had visited a hospital in Voghera, a town in the Lombardy province of Pavia, after having unprotected sex, and were refused the pill by the same nurse, Corriere della Sera reported.

The nurse told the newspaper that she refused for “ethical, not religious, reasons” and also tried to convince them to save a human life.

But Silvio Viale, a gyneocologist at SantìAnna di Torino hospital in Turin who has battled for years to legitimize both the morning-after pill and the abortion pill in Italy, said her behaviour was "unacceptable" and that "she should be suspended".

“It is the responsibility of the health department to provide this service,” Viale, who is also the president of the political movement Radicali Italians (Radical Italians), told Gazzetta di Reggio.

The two episodes highlight the contentious topic of contraceptives in Italy and the often misguided perceptions of what constitutes abortion.

Lisa Canitano, who works for Vita di Donna, an organization that provides support to women over health issues,told The Local: "In this case it does not matter what your ethical stance is, the Italian state dictates by law, that those girls are allowed the right to contraception."

"The reason that Italy sees so many of these cases, is that it is a country in which Catholicism and catholic leaders attempt to influence us so as to conform to their beliefs," she added

Ever since the introduction of Law 194 in 1978, women in Italy are entitled to terminate a pregnancy within the first three months. This same law allows medical staff to refuse assistance if they object to abortion on moral grounds, a practice that has, in several cases, had a devastating impact on women in Italy.

However, the “objection-stance” does not apply for contraception. 

READ MORE HERE: Why doctors in Italy refuse to give abortions

The morning after pill is usually taken within 72 hours of having sex and works by preventing ovulation or, if the egg has been fertilized, by preventing implantation in the womb. The pill has no effect once a pregnancy has begun and thereby differs from abortive pills such as mifepristone. In effect, the nurses actions were illegal.

By Maya Acharya

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My German career: ‘Women and girls need to know how to defend themselves’

American in Frankfurt Sunny Graff has spent over 35 years helping women become stronger and more confident - while having fun in the process.

My German career: 'Women and girls need to know how to defend themselves'
Sunny Graff has been teaching self-defence courses for over 35 years. Photo courtesy of Sunny Graff.

When Sunny Graff was 17-years-old in the late 1960s, a friend was murdered while she was hitchhiking. Filled with sadness – and rage – Graff didn’t feel she had anywhere to turn.

“I was angry and there was no place to put that anger. There were no rape crisis centres, there were no women’s shelters,” says Graff, an American who has now lived in Frankfurt for over 35 years. “Women were not on the political agenda.”

Aiming to change that, Graff became involved in the fledgling women’s movement when she started studying at Ohio State University. Focusing her energy on stopping violence against women, she helped found a rape crisis centre and began martial arts training

When arriving a decade later in Frankfurt on an academic scholarship, she founded a self-defence school for girls, expanding it eventually to include females of all ages.

“Every woman and every girl needs to know how to defend herself,” says Graff, whose school includes girls as young as five to women in their 70s. “Violence against us has always been a problem, it continues to be a problem, and we have a lot more work to do before we can end violence.”

Teaching to all walks of life

Graff still teaches everyday at Frauen in Bewegung (Women in Movement). The school, situated in Frankfurt’s Nordend neighbourhood, counts over 300 regular students in classes such as Lapunti Filipino Stickfighting, Tai Chi, Self-Defense, Yoga, Functional Exercise and Violence Prevention.

Girls training at 'Frauen in Bewegung'. Photo courtesy of Sunny Graff. 

They also teach taekwondo classes to a group of women and girls in a local mosque, and two courses a week at an elementary school.

Graff also just wrapped up teaching a two-year course to 15 new self-defense instructors, 13 of whom are women of colour, or with migrant backgrounds.

“German society is getting more and more diverse, and we need to have trainers who are role models for the girls and women they train,” says Graff.

Most of the classes are taught in German – with instructors who can assist in English – but sometimes they will include translators if the students are refugee women.

Strong and empowered students

The school’s growing pool of alumni often give Graff feedback about how much the classes have benefitted them.

Sometimes it’s because the information they have received has helped them stop a potentially dangerous situation before it escalates. And often it’s because the information they have received has helped them feel strong and empowered in their day-to-day lives.

These women, says Graff, often send their daughters to the courses years later. The school’s impact often reverberates outside of Frankfurt, with alumni having taught or opened their own schools in other cities.

“It is important for me to teach women and girls in a safe space where they are just accepted, where they can just walk in the door and be themselves, where they don’t have to worry about being judged for who they are, for their bodies or for their sexuality, for their skin colour, for anything,” said Graff.

“They can just train, get strong, have fun, and gain confidence.”