Al Jazeera Close Up

Italy’s Fetus Graveyards | Close Up

Unauthorised burials of aborted fetuses shed light on stigma women face, as well as barriers to reproductive rights.

“Finding myself crucified has been the last step of the torture a woman had to endure to have a therapeutical abortion in Rome,” says Francesca.

In 2019, Francesca was six months pregnant and needed an abortion for medical reasons – because the baby she was carrying had a malformed aorta.

First, the Italian pro-abortion rights activist had to scour Rome to find one of only five doctors in the city who performs abortions.

During the procedure, she was left in active labour without any anaesthesia.

A year later, she found a cemetery displaying a cross that bore her name.

Cemetery administrators had placed crosses to mark aborted fetuses, crosses with the names of women who had the abortions visible on them. Francesca believes it is an attempt to shame the women who had to make the decision to terminate their pregnancies. In some parts of Italy, hospitals have even struck deals with Roman Catholic associations so they can collect the aborted fetuses and give them Christian burials.

According to Italian Law 194, abortions are only permitted between the third and sixth month of pregnancy, and only if the mother’s physical or psychological health is at risk. The law says nothing about the fetus’s health.

More than a year after the scandal, hundreds of crosses still have the women’s names visible on the cross.


A film by: Flavia Cappellini

Editor: Alaa Alhussan and Flavia Cappellini

Drone: Fabio Forcellino

Driver: Adriano Manna

Producer: Alaa Alhussan

Special thanks to journalist Gabriele Barbati and filmmaker Daniele Napolitano.

Archive footage courtesy of ilRiformista, with thanks to Davide Nunziante, Chiara Viti and Giacomo Andreol.