WASHINGTON — Anti-abortion activists claim the five fetuses discovered at a Capitol Hill home last week were among 115 fetuses they recovered from a medical waste transportation company outside a D.C. clinic.
Activists Terrisa Bukovinac and Lauren Handy, with Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, sat for a one-on-one interview with WUSA9 on Monday ahead of a news conference the following day to discuss the discovery of the fetuses and a federal indictment against Handy and eight others.
According to Bukovinac, the women went to the Washington Surgi-Clinic on F Street on March 25 to perform what they call a “pink rose rescue” when they noticed a Curtis Bay Medical Waste Services truck outside. The women say they confronted the driver of the truck and told him the packages he was transporting might contain fetal remains.
“I said, would you get in trouble if we took one of these boxes?” Bukovinac said. “And he said, ‘Well, what would you do with them if you took one? And Lauren said, ‘Well, we would give them a proper burial and a funeral.’ And he thought about it for a second and he said, ‘OK.’”
The women claim they then took the box back to Handy’s apartment, where they found dozens of plastic containers inside. Those containers, they claim, held 115 aborted fetuses.
Curtis Bay Medical Waste Services says it does not transport fetal remains by company policy and also denied that any package was ever handed over to the anti-abortion group.
“At no time did the Curtis Bay employee hand over any of these packages to the PAAU or other third party, and any allegations made otherwise are false,” the company said in a statement.
Bukovinac said the group has pictures of the truck, but did not take video of the driver or them obtaining the package. At Tuesday's news conference, the group played a portion of a video appearing to show them opening a biohazard bag inside the package. The video cuts from the initial incision in the bag to dozens of containers sitting on a table, and does not show any items being removed from the bag or the box. Upon questioning by WUSA9, the group promised to post a full video of the opening on YouTube.
Also at the news conference, Handy and Bukovinac said they searched for three days for a private pathologist to examine the fetuses, but were unsuccessful. They claim they made the decision to have 110 of the fetuses buried in a private ceremony overseen by a Catholic priest and to turn over five of the fetuses they believed to be at late gestational ages to law enforcement.
Handy and eight others are facing federal charges for invading the Washington Surgi-Clinic two years ago. Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington has accused the group of harassing patients at their clinic as well, and D.C. Superior Court Records show Handy and associated anti-abortion activists have been arrested on multiple occasions – although the majority of those cases resulted in a $50 ticket.
Bukovinac said she and Handy called DC Police to pick up the fetuses last week. Officers did so on the same day federal prosecutors unsealed the indictment against Handy.
Much of the news conference Tuesday was framed as a call-to-action for Christians and conservatives who oppose abortion and who are, in the view of the activists, insufficiently committed to the cause. Long-time anti-abortion activist and Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, who has been serving as a spokesman for PAAU, compared journalists who don't report on the story to Nazi "collaborators" and said Christians who don't join their cause are like the priest and the Levite in the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan.
"[Bukovinac and Handy] are living, breathing, walking rebukes to the cowardice and the self-love of the Christian community at large and clergy and leadership in particular," Terry said.
As part of its pressure campaign, during the press conference PAAU played video containing graphic images of purportedly aborted fetuses — many of which were posted last week on social media. Bukovinac said they showed the photos to try to honor the fetuses, which they had named, but a bioethicist told WUSA9 the she viewed it as self-serving.
“They took what was an incredibly private moment for these women in their reproductive lives and spread it all over the internet for their own exploitative purposes," Katie Watson, a lawyer and professor of medical education at Northwestern University, said.
In addition to attacking the complacency of other anti-abortion advocates, the group also asserted, without evidence, that DC Police are engaged in a "coverup" on behalf of the Washington Surgi-Clinic.
The Washington Surgi-Clinic has declined repeated requests to comment, but a WUSA9 review of five years of Department of Health inspection reports determined inspectors have consistently found nothing to cite at the clinic. And Dr. Cesare Santangelo, the abortion doctor at the clinic, has been licensed to practice in D.C. for more than 20 years without any disciplinary issues on his record.
While Bukovinac and Handy have called for a full autopsy of the fetuses, the D.C. Medical Examiner’s Office has said the five fetuses recovered from Handy’s home all appear to have been aborted in accordance with D.C. law.
Bukovinac denied to WUSA9 that the group did anything illegal in obtaining the fetuses.
“We were given this box by the whistleblower who worked for the medical waste company,” she said.