New research has shown that a visit by the Pope can renew sufficient religious observance among Italian women to withhold sex from their partners for more than a year afterwards.

A new study by Britain’s University of Sussex Busiess School study has shows that Papal visits to Italian provinces lead to a subsequent decrease in abortions of up to 20% with its impact felt for up to 14 months after, new research by economists, Dr Vikram Pathania and Dr Egidio Farina has revealed.

As the drop in abortions produced no significant increase in recorded births, researchers believe the most likely explanation is a reduced need for abortions as the Pope’s words inspire local women to heightened observation of Catholic doctrine and avoidance of non-procreational sexual intercourse.

Dr Farina, now a research fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “The research finds a decrease in the number of abortions starting from the third month until the fourteenth month after the visit of a Pope.

“The decrease in abortions seems to be driven predominantly by a reduction in unintended pregnancies as women choose abstinence, increase their use of contraception or a combination of both, after a visit.

“While use of contraception is also contrary to Catholic teaching, it may be viewed by women as the lesser of two evils when compared to abortion.

“Our research shows the very real impact that religious values can have in shaping people’s most intimate socio-economic behaviour.”

The researchers investigated the links between regional abortion rates at the time of 129 official visits made to 85 Italian provinces by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI between 1979 and 2012, in a paper published in the Journal of Population Economics today.

It is thought to be the first study of its kind to measure the effect of heightened religious sentiment on the number of abortions or to use administrative data to precisely estimate the effect of the papal visits on the number of births.

The study found that the reduction in abortions more than doubled when the Pope explicitly mentioned or implicitly referenced abortion in his speeches, as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI did in around a quarter of visits during the 33 year period.

According to the university, “We investigate the impact of papal visits to Italian provinces on abortions from 1979 to 2012. Using administrative data, we find a 10–20% decrease in the number of abortions that commences in the 3rd month and persists until the 14th month after the visits.

“However, we find no significant change in the number of live births. A decline in unintended pregnancies best explains our results. Papal visits generate intense local media coverage, and likely make salient the Catholic Church’s stance against abortions. We show that papal visits lead to increased church attendance, and that the decline in abortions is greater when the Pope mentions abortion in his speeches.”

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