Women in Italy shocked to find their names on gravestones of aborted fetuses
When Francesca joined a group of friends on a fact-finding visit to a cemetery in Rome last week, she wasn’t ready to find a small white cross with her name on it.
Friends had learned via Facebook that a woman from Rome who had an abortion later discovered her name on a similar cross in the sprawling Prima Porta cemetery in the Flaminio neighborhood on the northern outskirts of the capital.
Francesca, a 36-year-old body movements instructor who requested that her last name not be released, underwent an abortion in September 2019 after learning that her fetus had a fatal heart defect and would not survive. But she had never expected someone to bury her fetus and mark the site with a cross with her name on it.
“No one told me the fetus would be buried, no one asked me if I wanted a funeral and no one had my permission to put my name on a cross,” she said. “I can’t tell you how horrible it is to find a cross with your name on it.”
The public prosecutor is investigating
This week, the Italian feminist organization Differenza Donna filed an official complaint with the Rome public prosecutor on behalf of dozens of women who have been named on small crosses in an area of the cemetery called the Garden of the Angels.
The public prosecutor has opened a case against “unknown persons”, according to Italian media.
In a Facebook post last month, a woman named Marta Loi wrote of her surprise to learn that her name had been displayed on a cross in the cemetery.
Law wrote on Facebook that when she had her abortion, hospital staff told her that if she wanted a funeral and burial for her fetus, she would have to fill out a form. She did not do it.
About seven months later, she wrote, she began to wonder what had happened to her fetal remains and called the hospital, who told her the remains were still being held by the morgue in case where she would change her mind about a funeral and they would take care of them. Later, she found the cross with her name on it.
She posted a photo of her cross, of which there are around 200, some dating as far back as 2004. Many are made of wood, have rotted and have fallen.
Women say they did not consent to the funeral
“I get chills every time I talk about it,” said Elisa Ercoli, director of Differenza Donna, who lodged the complaint and calls for an investigation into the matter.
“We have been fighting for years in Italy for women to have the right to give their own children their last name [without the father’s permission], a right that is still largely denied to them, ”she said.
“Now this – the public disgrace of women who have undergone legal and therapeutic abortion, an intimate and private choice of self-determination that no one has the right to comment on. This is a very serious act of institutional violence.”
Italian law states that the burial of fetuses resulting from therapeutic abortions of 20 to 28 weeks can take place upon written request of the mother or parents within 24 hours. Yet the women on whose behalf Differenza Donna is advocating said they had not received clear information about the consent process or given their written consent.
Following the discovery in Rome, authorities are now investigating “never-born babies” sections of public cemeteries in other parts of the country. Tombs of fetuses buried without the permission of the women were discovered in Turin in 2013 and removed.
Volunteers show up with a bag
Cathy La Torre, a lawyer representing some of the women, said that if the women do not ask for a burial, what often happens is that hospitals or local health authorities make deals with ultra-Catholic associations. preservatives to bury the remains in order to save on costs. According to Italian law, fetal material from 20 to 28 weeks old must be buried; up to 20 weeks, the material is incinerated.
“Volunteers from these groups show up with a bag and cover the cost of having the abortion materials buried. Then the women find their name on a small cross, ”said La Torre.
One of these groups is Difendere la Vita con Maria, or Protect Life with Mary, which describes on its website that it undertakes “to bury fetuses whether or not a family asks for it” and to place crosses on them.
Maurizio Gagliardini, a parish priest who heads the association, says the group is not responsible for putting women’s names on crosses, which he says is a violation of privacy. His group, he said, only puts the date of the abortion and a number code on the cross.
“I think the pro-life movement should be allowed to express itself in a democracy,” Gagliardini said. “We’re Catholics, but we don’t go to the hospital to preach. Crosses on buried fetuses, yes, but women’s names, no.”
He said his association did not have a formal agreement with the hospitals in Rome, but that it was a group of volunteers who provide a service that some women officially request, namely the burial of fetuses. .
He admits that the group places crosses on fetal material buried without written permission from the women, but said he believes Italian law allows it if a woman does not claim the material within 24 hours.
But Francesca said finding her full name on a small cross in Rome’s cemetery is just the last straw in what she calls a “system of physical and psychological torture” of women seeking abortions in Italy. .
“Everyone is moved now by the question of privacy,” she said, “but the real problem is that Italy does not allow women to have abortions with dignity.”
Caregivers oppose abortion
While women in Italy obtained the right to abortion in 1978, the law gives doctors and nurses the right to conscientiously object to their practice. Because so many hospitals in Italy are Catholic, the vast majority of healthcare workers choose to oppose, not necessarily for religious reasons, but because some fear that having performed or assisted with abortions is on their record. of work, they will not be hired in Catholic hospitals.
Francesca said that in Italy there is no readily available information for women seeking an abortion. It took her weeks to find a doctor – and a nurse who worked the same shift – willing to perform the procedure. She said she was forced to undergo several ultrasounds in which technicians urged her to look at her daughter’s “beautiful face” and that she was insulted by health workers at the public hospital.
She says the abortion itself was like “a horror movie” and was denied an epidural and anesthesia.
“Putting our names on crosses is just the last step in a system that aims to punish women who have abortions.”