Sacrificed for Honor: Italian Infant Abandonment and the Politics of Reproductive Control

David I. Kertzer, Author
David I. Kertzer, Author Beacon Press (MA) $25 (252p) ISBN 978-0-8070-5604-2
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Pregnant single women in 19th-century Italy, threatened with the loss of their own and their families' honor, gave their babies to foundling homes, where hundreds of thousands of children died from starvation and disease. In this shocking and engrossing study, Kertzer, a historian and anthropologist at Brown, blames the Catholic Church for its central role in nurturing a system that controlled women's sexuality, exempted men from parental responsibility and consigned infants to death. Midwives were recruited by church and state officials to inform on illicit pregnancies. Many foundling homes devised programs under which unwed mothers, in order to pay for their own infants' care, were forced to serve as wet nurses for other children. Kertzer draws loose parallels between the system of legalized infant abandonment, which spread throughout southern Europe, and contemporary debates on abortion and the role of church and state in defining the social good. (Aug.)
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