The comments from the ex-interior minister and League leader that some women having abortions were using emergency rooms “like health ATMs” came during a political rally in Rome on Sunday.
“Emergency room nurses in Milan let me know there are women who have shown up for the seventh time for an abortion,” Salvini told supporters.
“It's not for me to judge, it's right for a woman to choose, but the emergency room can't be the solution for uncivilised lifestyles in 2020.”
The country's medical community cautioned that Salvini's comments were inaccurate as abortions are not performed in an emergency room.
The general secretary for the union of Italian doctors, Pina Onotri, told AFP it would be “impossible” for a woman to have an abortion in an emergency room unless it involved a miscarriage.
Gynaecologist Gisella Giampa at the Sandro Pertini hospital in Rome said Salvini was taking “rare cases” and generalising.
“Before speaking, he could inform himself, and, when one wants to be a statesman, not to take his information from one single nurse,” she said.
Just before this comment, Salvini had railed against “non-Italians” using emergency rooms for free, saying the “third time you have to pay.”
Anti-migrant diatribes regularly launched by Salvini, who maintains that he is a staunch Catholic, have increased his popularity among supporters.
Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978. The law allows women to terminate their pregnancies within three months of inception, with later-stage abortions permittable in some cases.
Women must request the procedure and then wait seven days to lower the chance of them later having misgivings, Italian law states.
But despite its legality, in reality women often find it nearly impossible to get an abortion because many Italian gynaecologists, legally allowed to be “conscientious objectors”, refuse to perform the procedure.
Womens' rights activists said Salvini “seemed to be very confused about abortion judging by his comments.”
“The morning after pill is not a method of abortion, but of contraception,” Beatrice Brignone, equality activist and secretary of the left-wing Possibile movement, wrote on Twitter.
Salvini sembra essere molto confuso sul tema dell'#aborto, a giudicare dalle sue dichiarazioni di ieri.
Ma, visto che insiste a volerne parlare, facciamo chiarezza: magari può essergli utile. pic.twitter.com/bynpUPgAzk
— Beatrice Brignone (@beabri) February 17, 2020
The head of Italy's Democratic Party (PD), Nicola Zingaretti, said Salvini's comments showed him increasingly desperate ahead of regional elections this spring where he hopes to win key regions of Italy for the League.
“Salvini mouths off even more every day because he's in trouble. With insults, outlandish theories and random numbers,” Zingaretti wrote on Facebook.
“Luckily, Italian emergency rooms don't listen to his provocations,” he said. “Get your hands off women.”
The spokesman for the Five Star Movement, which currently shares power with the PD, said women were Salvini's latest target.
“After migrants, gypsies and gays, Matteo Salvini now has it out for women who choose abortion,” Giuseppe Buompane said on Twitter.
Women taking part in a protest against the League in Milan in 2019. Photo: AFP