Remains of DC aborted babies reportedly to be destroyed with no chance of autopsy

Lauren Handy and Terrisa Bukovinac outside the medical examiner’s office in Washington, D.C., April 8, 2022. Lauren Handy and Terrisa Bukovinac outside the medical examiner’s office in Washington, D.C., April 8, 2022. | Katie Yoder/CNA

The remains of five late-term aborted babies in Washington, D.C., will not be receiving an autopsy that could have determined if federal law was violated by the abortion clinic responsible for their deaths, a pro-life group announced Monday. 

“BREAKING: EMERGENCY ACTION NEEDED! The DC Medical Examiner has informed our attorneys that the DOJ has instructed them to destroy the remains of the #DC5. But these babies are evidence of federal crimes! Call your Reps NOW and demand #JusticeForTheFive!” a Feb. 5 social media post on X said.

The secular pro-life group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) originally obtained the remains of the aborted babies in March 2022. The pro-life group says it acquired the remains from the Washington Surgi-Clinic run by Dr. Cesare Santangelo, an OB-GYN and well-known abortionist in the city.

The group, along with dozens of federal lawmakers and pro-life activists, has called for an investigation and autopsy to determine if the babies were killed in violation of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. The federal law prohibits abortion after the child is partially born.

The Washington Post, citing two anonymous sources, reported in 2022 that the D.C. medical examiner’s office had no plans to conduct an autopsy. The office has not responded to CNA’s requests for comment. 

All that has been publicly said by officials about the legality of the killings is that the five babies’ remains recovered “were aborted in accordance with D.C. law,” which allows abortion up to nine months.

In September of last year, a spokeswoman for D.C. police told CNA that that determination “was based on the on-scene investigation conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.”

CNA reached out to the medical examiner’s office on Tuesday but did not receive a response.

The medical examiner’s office gave no response to CNA in September 2023 after several attempts to confirm that the babies’ remains were still in the medical examiner’s office.

But PAAU has consistently maintained that the medical examiner’s office has been in possession of the remains, citing conversations between the pro-life group’s legal counsel and the office. 

Speaking to the Daily Signal on Monday, Martin Cannon, a lawyer representing the group, said: “Just today, I got a call from the medical examiner’s office indicating that the DOJ has advised them that there is no reason to keep those babies anymore.”

“And the medical examiner’s office accordingly tells me that if we don’t have an order to the contrary, by the end of this week, a court order, they will dispose of the babies,” he said.

Cannon told the outlet that the D.C. medical examiner’s office called him Monday regarding the case of Lauren Handy, a pro-life activist whom he represents. 

Handy was one of five anti-abortion protesters found guilty in August 2023 of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. 

In 2020, she and those she protested with had entered the Washington-Surgi abortion clinic in Washington, D.C. — the same clinic from which the five aborted babies were allegedly obtained — as part of a pro-life demonstration.

Cannon said he had an agreement with the medical examiner’s office before Handy’s trial for a privately obtained forensic pathologist to examine the babies ahead of the proceedings.

“I had the agreement of the medical examiner to accommodate that,” he said. That private autopsy never occurred because the pathologist “became unable to do the examination,” the outlet reported.

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“The condition of those babies and the circumstances under which they died is still relevant to the case,” Cannon said. “It’s pertinent to sentencing. And I’ve been making some efforts lately to find another pathologist and see what we can do. And, of course, I have advised the medical examiner’s office of that.”

After receiving the Monday call from the medical examiner’s office, Cannon questioned the reason for the office taking “such stark marching orders from the DOJ.”

“If I understand the structure of things correctly, there’s no real reason the DOJ should have such sway over the examiner’s office,” he said. “Beyond Lauren’s case, there is a general need to have these babies examined. There is literally exactly a 50% chance that two of these babies … there’s a 50% chance that each of them was born alive and left to die… There’s some chance that the others were subject to illegal partial-birth abortions.”

“The DOJ knows this,” he said. “Those are federal crimes.”

CNA reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia on Tuesday. The DOJ referred CNA to the D.C. medical examiner’s office for comment.

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