A little more than a week ago, members of the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) were arrested after reporting their discovery of five dismembered and mangled fetuses to the D.C. Homicide Unit, but as of now, the police have not investigated the deaths of these children and there appears to be no plan to do so.
The details of this tragedy are confusing because there has been little official government response, and the corporate media has focused almost exclusively on the actions of the PAAU activists, rather than the reality that five unborn third-trimester babies may have been tortuously killed in violation of federal law.
Members of PAAU held a press conference on Tuesday in coordination with Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, and other pro-life advocates to give their version of the events. During their hour-long presentation to the media, they explained that the bodies of 115 aborted babies, including the five third-trimester children, were provided to them by a truck driver who had come to pick up “biomedical waste” from the Washington Surgi-Clinic.
Terrisa Buckovinac and Lauren Handy, two of the group’s members, had gone to the clinic on March 25 to commemorate the “Day of the Unborn Child” by providing alternative pregnancy resources to women, or what they call a “pink rose rescue.”
When the truck, owned by Curtis Bay Energy, pulled up outside the clinic to pick up two large boxes, which were labeled with the company name and biohazard symbols, the two activists approached him. They asked him if he knew what was in the boxes. “After he said, ‘No,’ we told him, ‘Dead babies,” recalled Buckovinac, an atheist. They then asked if they could take one of the boxes. When the driver asked their intentions, Handy, a devout Catholic, replied, “We would give them a proper burial and a funeral.”
The driver thought for a moment, according to the activists, and then gave permission. The two women took the box off of the dolly and transported it back to Handy’s apartment in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. On arriving there, they carefully opened the box and then cut open the red plastic bag that contained various sized individual containers. The entire unpacking was captured on videotape.
The box contained a total of 115 fetuses, including 110 smaller children, thought to be in various gestational stages of the the first trimester. The five late-term babies were discovered at the very bottom of the box bundled in containers inside a separate, clear plastic bag.
Inside the first large container, a bucket, they found the corpse of a nearly full-term intact baby boy, who they named Christopher X.
“I think I can speak for both Lauren and I when I say, ‘This was the most devastating and soul-crushing experience of our lives,’” Buckovinac stated. “Not even years of anti-abortion advocacy would have prepared us for that moment.”
They later discovered four more children: a fully intact girl they named Harriet, who had one eye open, an incision on the back of her neck, her brains sucked out, and her skull crushed. Two children — named Angel and Holly — were severely dismembered, and the last one, Phoenix, was whole and still inside the amniotic sack.
The next day, a Catholic priest was brought in and a funeral mass for unbaptized children was held, during which all 115 of the children were formally named, prayed over, and grieved. The 110 smaller fetuses, believed to have been aborted during the first trimester, were then taken to a private, undisclosed cemetery and buried.
“I made a promise — a funeral and a burial,” Handy said emotionally. “It has been my desire since the beginning, since March 25 and through the whole process, to ensure these children’s dignity were uplifted and respected.”
The group spent three days trying to hire a private pathologist to conduct an autopsy, but eventually consulted their attorney and then contacted the D.C. homicide unit to come and retrieve the five largest children so they could investigate. The group asked that full and thorough autopsies be conducted to determine if the children had been killed in violation of federal law, namely the Born Alive Infant Protection Act and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban.
No. After the police were called but before the children were retrieved, Handy and eight other pro-life defendants were arrested by the FBI and charged with violating the Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, based on an instance 18 months prior (in October 2020) when the nine defendants had allegedly illegally entered the Washington Surgi-Clinic. They have since been indicted by a D.C. grand jury for conspiracy and for obstructing patients from entering the clinic and exercising their right to obtain an abortion.
If convicted on the two counts, each defendant faces a maximum of 11 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000.
Buckovinac, who is not among the defendants, called out the injustice of the arrests, saying during the press conference, “While these heroes are being unjustly prosecuted, Santangelo continues to kill babies and exploit their parents for profit as he has for decades. This must end.”
According to PAAU, the D.C. Medical Examiner had agreed to come pick up the five bodies at Handy’s apartment on the evening of March 29, but hours before that, Handy was arrested by the FBI and taken into custody. The other eight defendants were arrested around the same time.
The Medical Examiner did not arrive to pick up the children’s remains until March 30, according to PAAU.
Dr. Cesare Santangelo is the only abortionist who works at the Washington Surgi-Clinic, one of several abortion clinics operating in D.C. The website for this particular clinic says that it performs abortions up to 27 weeks gestation. Pro-life activists have compared Dr. Santangelo to Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the notoriously gruesome abortionist who was convicted of several counts of first-degree murder for killing a woman seeking an abortion and several infants after they were born alive. He is currently serving a sentence of life without possibility of parole in federal prison.
Among many other allegations indicating a complete disdain for fetal life and for women, Dr. Santangelo was caught on tape in 2013 admitting that he does not use feticide on fetuses older than 20 weeks gestation, which would induce a heart attack in the child and avoid the pain associated with being dismembered or taken forcefully from the womb. “Because of this admission and the advanced gestational ages of these babies and their intact condition, the likelihood that some of the babies were born alive is undeniable,” said Buckovinac. “Additionally, the injuries sustained by Harriet strongly imply that she was the victim of a partial birth abortion.”
For this reason, PAAU and other activists are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to take over the investigation from the D.C. police and to prosecute Santangelo for violating the aforementioned federal laws. Handy also demanded that, for the dignity of the children and to keep her promise to the Curtis Bay whistleblower, the remaining five children be given a proper funeral and burial once the autopsies are completed.
According to reporting by the Washington Post, the D.C. Medical Examiner’s Office has not done an official autopsy on any of the children, but Ashan M. Benedict, the executive assistant chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, said at a news conference that the five late-term children “were aborted in accordance with D.C. law, so we are not investigating this incident along those lines.” They are, however, investigating how the fetuses came into the possession of the activists and “whether any laws were broken.”
Washington Surgi-Clinic has not responded to the controversy.
Curtis Bay Energy has denied the activists’ version of events, saying that clinics are not allowed to use their services to dispose of fetal remains. In a statement, it said that on March 25, the driver “took custody of three packages from the Washington Surgery Center (Washington Surgi Clinic) and delivered them to Curtis Bay’s incineration facility. At no time did the Curtis Bay employee hand over any of these packages to PAAU or any third party, and any allegations made otherwise are false.”
Nearly 70 members of Congress, led by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, are calling on the Justice Department to investigate and determine if any federal laws were violated Prior to that, another 23, including Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., sent a letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Chief of Police Robert J. Contee III, demanding that the D.C. police conduct an investigation, compete with autopsies. They also sent a copy of the letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Neither Contee nor Garland have yet to officially respond.
Mayor Bowser finally weighed in by letter in response to an inquiry from Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., asking more information on the status of the investigation. Lankford tweeted a photo of her response late Friday evening in which she suggested that “extremist” Lauren Handy may have broken federal law by “tampering with fetal remains,” in addition to her indictment on charges under the FACE Act. Bowser said that the D.C. Police were consulting with the D.C. Attorney General’s Office on both issues. She did not answer any of Lankford’s questions regarding the status of the investigation or the location of the babies’ bodies.
Lankford commented by saying, “This response tells me that @Mayor Bowser thinks that revealing the death of children is a crime, not taking the lives of children.”
Not surprisingly, the pro-life defendants, particularly Lauren Handy, have been vilified and misrepresented in the press, with very little concern for what happened to the children and whether Dr. Santangelo and the Washington Surgi Clinic broke any federal laws.
Rolling Stone described the activists’ story “either a horrifying heist, a cruel hoax, or some mixture of the two.”
Local publications insinuated that “someone” had “tipped off” the police to the fact that Handy had possession of the fetal remains, failing to note that it was PAAU and its attorney that had contacted the D.C. Homicide Unit.
Pro-life groups have come together over this tragic find. PAAU and other organizations have been protesting at the D.C. Medical Examiner’s Office and Mayor Bowser’s Office to demand a full investigation and that official autopsies are done, in conjunction with a Twitter hashtag campaign: #JusticeForTheFive.
There was an overwhelming amount of reaction from pro-life organizations, politicians, and cultural observers. Below are just a few examples.
March for Life tweeted: “These five children, like all children, have inherent value and deserved better than abortion – they deserved life. But at a minimum, they deserve to have their deaths investigated to ensure that no D.C. or federal laws were broken.”
Allie Beth Stuckey responded to the tragic find by writing a lengthy feature article for World. She stated, “While there are lingering unknowns surrounding this story, the heartbreaking images remind us of this incontrovertible truth: Abortion is a horrifying, grotesque, and evil tragedy. There is no nuance here. No caveats. It is not possible to be ‘personally pro-life’ but politically pro-abortion. There is no ‘pro-life ethic’ that does not include legal opposition to abortion.”
Media personality Megan McCain tweeted: “I can’t stop thinking about this. All of our politicians should be forced to respond and confront the reality that five innocent babies who could have lived outside the womb were murdered within miles from where they work on Capitol Hill — it is something out of a horror movie.”
And Lila Rose, president of Live Action, tweeted just today: “The abortionist, the industry he works in, and the government of D.C. think that if they can just ignore this scandal long enough, it will go away. I can promise them that they are wrong. We will not stop demanding justice for these children until true justice is achieved.”
These images show what is at stake: These children were alive and now they’re dead, possibly killed illegally under horrific circumstances. Twitter will not even allow the photos to be shown without a warning, stating that they depict “violence and sensitive content,” though the D.C. police assure us that nothing wrong has been done here.
This past week, the state of Colorado passed a law stating that unborn children have no legal human rights — even up until the moment of birth. Apparently, that’s already the case in D.C., where these five human beings appear to have no right to a proper death investigation, no right to justice, no right to compassion, and no right to dignity. Whether these five children — Christopher X, Harriet, Angel, Holly, and Phoenix — will even get a funeral or a proper burial is still not certain.
As pro-life and pro-abortion advocates wait for the Supreme Court to rule in the Dobbs case and the possibility that Roe v. Wade will be overturned, these five tiny lives and the political machinations that have already taken place in Colorado, D.C., and other radically pro-abortion jurisdictions show that the fight over the sanctity of life is far from over. In fact, it is likely just getting started and will no doubt be uglier than ever.