When the police department comes to your home to seize five fetuses you’re storing in a refrigerator, you’ve got some explaining to do. On Tuesday, anti-abortion rights activist Lauren Handy attempted to do just that.
Handy, the director of activism at the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising group, says she contacted the Washington, D.C., police department and asked it to collect five fetuses from her home. Handy and her colleague, PAAU founder Terrisa Bukovinac, claimed the remains were evidence that a local clinic was performing illegal abortions and asked the police to investigate. But the stunt appears to have backfired, and now the police are investigating just how the remains ended up in a D.C. residency.
Handy and Bukovinac gave their side of the story this week, unveiling new details on what’s either a horrifying heist, a cruel hoax, or some mixture of the two. Either way, somebody is pedaling a false narrative about what happened outside a D.C. abortion clinic on March 25.
That’s the day Handy and Bukovinac say they arrived at the Washington Surgi-Clinic to hand out pink roses and discourage patients from seeking abortions. But while there, the pair claim they were allowed to walk away with a box that not only contained the five fetuses D.C. police seized last week, but also 110 other sets of fetal remains.
“When we got outside the clinic, we saw a truck labeled Curtis Bay Medical Waste Services,” Bukovinac tells Rolling Stone. “We walked around the truck and saw the driver was about to load two large boxes with biohazard labels on the outside into the truck.” Bukovinac says she asked the driver if he’d “get in trouble” if they took a box, and claims he allowed them to take one. Handy said she grabbed the box, which she describes as heavy, and the size of a large moving box, and carried it to their car. “I started hyperventilating, and I was panicking because I couldn’t believe this was really happening,” she says.
The duo on Tuesday attempted to back up their claims at a news conference. There, they screened a video that contained a still photo of a box labeled Curtis Bay Energy next to a truck with a Curtis Bay Medical Waste logo on the side. The video also contained a clip of the pair opening what appears to be the same box. In the video, the box contains dozens of medical containers, each containing what the activists say are fetal remains from the clinics’ abortions.
“We removed 115 unborn children from the bag,” Bukovinac tells Rolling Stone, claiming five sets of fetal remains were more developed than the rest. “There were five much larger containers.” The video screened Tuesday appears to show a fetus with a face and limbs. The activists assigned the fetus the name of “Christopher” and say the fetus’ developmental stage is evidence that the clinic is violating abortion laws.
The clinic declined to comment. In a statement, Curtis Bay Medical Waste disputed the activists’ version of the events, saying that company policy forbids clinics from using their services to dispose of fetuses. The company confirmed that on March 25, one of their employees picked up three packages from the Washington Surgi-Clinic, but says the employee delivered all of them to the company’s incineration facility. “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 statement said. Further, the statement said that according to company policy, “customers like Washington Surgi-Clinic are prohibited from disposing of fetuses and human remains via Curtis Bay’s services.” The company says it is fully cooperating with law enforcement.
Since seizing the fetuses from Handy’s residence, the police have stated the fetuses appear to have been 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,” according to The Washington Post. The Post further reported that two unnamed officials indicated there is no plan to conduct autopsies on the remains, despite demands from the anti-abortion activist community.
D.C. law does not specifically prohibit abortions after a certain week of pregnancy. Planned Parenthood in D.C. offers in-clinic abortions up to 19 weeks, according to its website. Washington Surgi-Clinic’s website says it offers abortions up to “27 plus weeks.”
At the news conference, Handy stood by her story, saying the boxes were there and that the driver had scanned them into the company’s system. Handy appeared alongside Randall Terry, a longtime anti-abortion activist whom Rolling Stone profiled in 1989. Terry questioned whether the medical waste company’s policy was being followed. “I find it hard to believe that the company that takes medical waste from abortion clinics would never put two and two together, that there are aborted human remains,” Terry said. “It’s absurd. What else would they have?”
As bizarre and disturbing as it was for the activists to — in their telling — steal fetal remains from outside a clinic and take them home, what they claim happened next is equally strange.
Handy and Bukovinac say they kept the five largest fetuses at Handy’s apartment, in the refrigerator, for five days. She and Bukovinac both take pains to note that Handy did not sleep in the apartment while the fetuses were there. “We treated that place as if it was a tomb,” Handy says. She and Bukovinac say they had a Catholic priest perform funeral rites and naming ceremony for all of the fetuses. Of the 110 smaller sets of remains the activists claim they took, they will only say they have been buried in a cemetery by a Catholic priest. At the press conference, they said they want to get a tombstone engraved with the 110 names they gave the fetuses before releasing further information about what they’ve done.
As days passed and they were unable to find a medical professional willing to examine the five remaining fetuses, Bukovinac says they decided they needed to contact the authorities. “The babies were in some kind of formaldehyde solution, but we didn’t know how long that would hold, or if her refrigerator was cold enough or whatever,” she says. “We were just feeling a sense of urgency.” Bukovinac claims that the “tip” the police said they’d received that led them to the fetuses in Handy’s apartment came from them. In a post on Facebook, PAAU shared a screenshot of a letter from a lawyer to the Metropolitan Police saying that “an entity” had gotten fetuses from “a whistleblower” and wanted to “advise appropriate authorities” and “request an investigation and forensic examinations.” MPD declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
So far, Hardy has not been charged for, in her telling, taking home a large box of fetal remains from outside an abortion clinic, but she has faced legal trouble before: She was indicted last week on federal charges for blockading a D.C. abortion clinic in 2020.