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Activists tell story of aborted baby remains

Pro-lifers who obtained the bodies outside an abortion facility intended to bury them


Pro-life activists Lauren Handy (center) and Joan Andrews Bell listen as Terrisa Bukovinac (left) speaks during a news conference at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Getty Images/Photo by Anna Moneymaker

Activists tell story of aborted baby remains

What began as an effort to give a proper burial to aborted babies led two pro-lifers to the discovery of possibly illegal late-term abortions and unsuccessful attempts to have the bodies examined. At a Tuesday morning news conference run by longtime pro-life activist Randall Terry, pro-lifers from the group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) revealed the story behind the unborn babies that police removed from an apartment in Washington, D.C., last Wednesday.

The FBI arrest of pro-life activist Lauren Handy in Washington last week—along with the police discovery of aborted baby bodies in her apartment—sparked confusion as news media reported on the situation. While a grand jury in March indicted Handy and eight other pro-life activists for engaging in a 2020 Washington abortion facility sit-in, leading to her recent arrest, the discovery of the baby remains was a separate matter and was coordinated by the pro-life activists. So far, the police department has said it does not intend to perform an autopsy on the bodies.

Handy and fellow activist Terrisa Bukovinac told WORLD their side of the story. The chain of events began two weeks ago outside of the downtown Washington Surgi-Clinic abortion facility. According to Bukovinac and Handy, the pair arrived around noon on Friday, March 25, for a “pink rose rescue,” in which activists enter an abortion facility and hand out roses and information about pro-life services to women in the waiting room. As they arrived, they said, they saw a medical waste truck from Curtis Bay Energy parked outside and a driver loading boxes into the back of the truck. When Handy and Bukovinac approached him and told him there could be dead babies inside the boxes, he looked “shocked” and “disturbed,” according to the pro-life activists. They said he checked his paperwork to confirm the boxes were from the abortion facility and said they were. Handy and Bukovinac also took photos, obtained by WORLD, that showed the name of the company on the boxes.

Bukovinac said she asked, “Would you get in trouble if we take one of these boxes?” The driver asked what they would do with it, and Handy told him they would make sure the babies had a proper burial, the activists said. They said the driver consented, so they took a box and returned to Handy’s apartment.

In a statement to local news channel WUSA-TV, the company, also known as Curtis Bay Medical Waste Services, admitted its employee picked up three packages from the abortion facility but denied giving any of them away. It said its company policy prohibits its customers from disposing of fetal remains using its services.

According to Bukovinac, she and Handy “made several calls” to get advice from people who “had experience with this type of thing” before opening the box. They spoke with Randall Terry, founder and former leader of Operation Rescue, and Monica Migliorino Miller, a friend and mentor of Handy’s who in the past has kept aborted babies’ bodies in her apartment while she made funeral arrangements. Some of their advice: Use gloves, double mask, be cautious looking through it, and be aware it could be nothing. 

They also tried to track down a priest “in anticipation that it might be dead babies.” Bukovinac is an atheist, but Handy is Catholic. They knew “so many people in our movement would be very concerned about us looking through the remains of unborn children,” Bukovinac said.

They were unable to find a priest but contacted a deacon who came to witness them opening the box. A little before 2 p.m., Bukovinac filmed on a phone while Handy with gloved hands removed the contents. Inside, they said, they found about 115 unborn babies at various stages of development: Five were well-developed, late-term babies—three still intact, two “severely dismembered.” Handy and Bukovinac decided that, before they buried the babies, they would show the bodies to a pathologist who could determine how they died. The pro-lifers suspected one had been a victim of an illegal partial-birth abortion and that others had been born alive. On March 28, a priest conducted a funeral Mass and naming ceremony for the babies in front of Handy’s refrigerator.

Despite their attempts, Bukovinac said they were unable to find a pathologist after multiple days of searching. On Tuesday, March 29, they emailed a letter through attorney Steve Cooley to the homicide branch of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, requesting to arrange a pickup of the five late-term babies so the police could examine them. Bukovinac and Handy said other activists transported the other 100-plus babies to arrange a burial that night.

During the time that the babies’ bodies were in her apartment, Handy said, no one was eating or living there. She stayed at Bukovinac’s apartment on the day they obtained the remains and the following nights. That Tuesday, they left Handy’s door unlocked so the police could pick up the babies, and they believed the pickup would happen that night.

But on the morning of Wednesday, March 30, Bukovinac and Handy heard that FBI agents were arresting other activists who had been involved in an October 2020 sit-in at the Washington Surgi-Clinic. They knew Handy would probably be arrested soon. They drove to Handy’s apartment to see if police had taken the babies yet and arrived a little after 9:30 a.m. Before they could enter, FBI agents arrested Handy on the sidewalk for her participation in the 2020 sit-in. Bukovinac said she checked inside the apartment after Handy’s arrest and saw that the babies were still there. The police didn’t arrive until thata afternoon to pick them up.

Bukovinac said the activists wanted a forensic analysis performed on the unborn babies before releasing information. But once local reporters heard about the earlier arrests, they showed up with cameras in Handy’s neighborhood to witness officials carrying biohazard bags out of the apartment. Police released Handy later that day, and when she arrived back at her apartment, reporters peppered her with questions. Her landlord told her she would have to move out, she said.

The Department of Justice filed the indictment against the nine pro-life activists on March 24, the day before Handy and Bukovinac obtained the box outside of the abortion facility. (Handy and the other indicted activists each face the possibility of more than a decade in prison if convicted of conspiracy and attempting to block access to the Washington Surgi-Clinic abortion facility during the October 2020 sit-in.)

“I think Lauren has been treated very unfairly,” said Handy’s mentor, Monica Migliorino Miller. “Keeping the bodies in her apartment was simply a temporary way to have them in her custody while they were preparing, frankly, to figure out what to do with them.”

From Miller and Handy’s perspective as Catholics, providing aborted babies a proper burial is one way to expose the injustice of abortion and perform an act of love and justice for the children. Miller noted that burying the dead is one of the seven corporal works of mercy in Catholic tradition. “That is the only act of charity that an aborted baby is ever going to get,” she said.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported on Friday that the “city medical examiner does not plan at this time to perform autopsies on the five fetuses” obtained from Handy’s house. Executive Assistant Chief of Police Ashan Benedict said Thursday the fetuses were aborted “in accordance with D.C. law [and] there doesn’t seem to be anything criminal in nature about that except for how they got into this house.”

In response to questions about the case, the Metropolitan Police Department told WORLD, “Due to the ongoing nature of this investigation, we are unable to discuss specifics such as this. This case remains under active investigation.”

According to the Washington Surgi-Clinic website, the abortion facility performs abortions up to “27-plus weeks of pregnancy.” District of Columbia law doesn’t put a gestational limit on abortions, but PAAU said the babies’ killings could have violated federal law if they had been born alive and left to die or if the abortionist had partially delivered them before killing them.


Leah Savas

Leah reports on pro-life topics for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.

@leahsavas

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