A statement from Herb Geraghty, Executive Director of Rehumanize International
Last week, news rocked the nation about police recovering the bodies of five children killed by abortion from the apartment of anti-abortion activist Lauren Handy in Washington, DC.
Lauren is a close, personal friend of mine whom I have worked alongside on human rights and justice causes for several years now. The past few days have been extremely difficult for me emotionally as I have tried to support my friend in a moment of crisis while also working to get a grasp on the full story.
I have been asked several times for a statement on the matter — both by people who expect me to disavow her and by others who expect me to affirm everything she has ever said or done. People have also called for Rehumanize International to make an official statement on the matter.
Ultimately, I do not believe it is the role of this organization to either critique or affirm the activism of others. I have long said that our goal is to connect a diverse coalition of people from across the political spectrum to work for peace and justice. This often means collaborating with people with whom we have strong disagreements — for example, working to end the death penalty with people who do not support the right to life for the unborn, or working to end abortion with people who hold more hawkish foreign policy positions. It also often means working with people who choose to utilize certain tactics in their activism that I might not choose. If we spent our time condemning and disavowing every anti-war, anti-death penalty, or anti-abortion activist who does something we deem unproductive or even harmful — we would get nothing done.
However, because of my close and public relationship with Lauren, and my connection to PAAU (I am a board member), I think it is important to address recent events.
Over the years, Lauren and I have had a complicated relationship, with countless disagreements on plenty of issues ranging from activism strategies to political ideology. However, there are two things we have always agreed upon: the worth of each and every individual human being and a total commitment to nonviolence.
Lauren, possibly more than anyone I know, is wholly committed to living out the principles of the Consistent Life Ethic. She spends nearly all of her waking hours serving the poor and marginalized — particularly low-income mothers, people experiencing homelessness, and those who are incarcerated. I have witnessed firsthand Lauren being willing to put her body in between the oppressor and the oppressed, at great personal cost to herself.
Over the past week and a half, I have seen my friend publicly demonized as a “creepy, fetus-fetishizing ghoul” and lionized as a hero and a “living saint.” The reality is far less interesting than either of these characterizations: Lauren Handy is a human being. She is complicated, and endearing, and frustrating, and eccentric.
She is a person who is particularly passionate about injustice. She is also a Catholic who deeply believes that burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy.
When I learned that she came into possession of the remains of human beings who were killed in abortions, I immediately knew that her intention was to make sure that these children were given a proper burial instead of the fate they would have seen: being treated as “waste” by the abortion industry.
When Lauren called me to tell me what had happened outside the clinic the previous day, I could hear in her voice the gravity of the situation. On the morning of March 25th, the Day of the Unborn Child, Lauren and Terrisa Bukovinac of Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising went to Washington Surgi-Clinic to offer life-affirming resources to people considering abortion. When they arrived outside the clinic, they saw a truck belonging to Curtis Bay Energy — a waste management company that collects “medical waste,” including the bodies of children killed by abortion. Disturbingly, this company uses a process to incinerate the waste and convert it into energy for profit. Lauren and Terrisa engaged with the Curtis Bay Energy driver, who confirmed that he was picking up boxes from the abortion clinic. They asked if the driver knew that he was likely transporting the bodies of children who were brutally killed inside that building. During this conversation, he became visibly shaken, and he was clearly convicted to act. Terrisa asked the driver if they could take one of the boxes, and when the driver asked what they would do with them, Lauren responded that she wanted to give the babies a proper burial and a funeral. The driver said he would allow them to take the box, and so they brought it back to Lauren’s apartment.
When they arrived back, they immediately contacted a religious leader to be present and someone to document the situation. They began opening the box, and what they found inside changed the course of their lives forever. Inside, they discovered the bodies of 115 unborn children, all at different gestational ages. Five of these children were clearly at extremely advanced stages of development, and their injuries gave the activists reason to believe they may potentially be victims of illegal partial-birth or born-alive abortions. These concerns have been echoed by multiple medical experts who have examined the photos. If you have seen the photos of these children, you can only begin to imagine the trauma that these activists experienced while handling these precious babies. In the videos they took to document, you can hear Lauren’s voice cracking as she explains what she is finding. You can hear Terrisa begin to weep over the children. The toll that this has taken on the mental health of every person involved is unimaginable — and only more so now that this has been thrust into the national spotlight.
After the initial discovery, they immediately began planning the funeral mass and burial. A mass was celebrated, and the babies were each given individual names, to reaffirm their humanity that the abortion industry attempted to callously strip away from them. The 110 fetuses who were earlier in gestation were then buried, and the activists worked to find an independent pathologist to examine the five children at advanced gestational stages. Lauren was insistent on burying the babies as quickly as possible and was resistant to the idea of turning them over to the police. Lauren is a prison abolitionist and — like myself and many other pro-life activists — is acutely aware that the police in this country regularly collaborate with the Abortion Industrial Complex and participate in the dehumanization of the unborn. Many of us were horrified when the Philadelphia police refused to allow the unborn victims of criminal Kermit Gosnell to be given a funeral or proper burial, instead incinerating the bodies and unceremoniously placing them in an unmarked mass grave.
For the four days that the babies' bodies were under her stewardship, Lauren stayed at Terrisa’s apartment while they looked for someone to do a medical examination of the remaining children to determine if they were victims of illegal abortion. While the children’s bodies were stored in Lauren’s residence, they treated the entire apartment like a tomb, with no one eating or sleeping there. After four days, they were unsuccessful in finding a medical examiner and determined that the best course of action would be to turn the babies over to the police in hopes that they would investigate. They contacted a lawyer who collaborated with DC homicide detectives to collect the remains.
However, the next day Lauren was indicted on unrelated charges for a nonviolent direct action that occurred in October 2020 — at the very abortion facility where they had received the remains just days prior. She was arrested by the FBI outside her apartment and released on recognizance hours later. Later that day, as arranged by the attorney, the DC police came to collect the bodies of the remaining babies.
This event was heavily reported on by the media in a way that suggested that the police “discovered” or “found” the fetuses following a tip or in a raid, implying that Lauren was not an active participant in the investigation. Suddenly my social media timelines were filled with conjecture, assumptions, and outright lies about my friend Lauren. Many people claimed that Lauren had been storing these fetal remains for years. Others guessed that they were taken from the University of Washington in Seattle and somehow transported across the country to DC. This is all untrue.
Many also speculated about the reasons that Lauren would have these babies in her apartment, ranging from the idea that these were Lauren’s children that she aborted herself, to the idea that she was planning to exploit these children’s bodies for attention, or money, or to advance her “career.” These accusations are absurd on their face, and I was disgusted to see people I otherwise respected spreading these offensive rumors.
Part of the reason that these rumors were able to be spread, though, was that Lauren and Terrisa announced that they needed a few days in order to properly release all of the information they had. They used this time to speak to the media about the discovery and began working behind the scenes to call for justice for the five babies who were collected by the DC police. One full day was spent moving all of Lauren’s belongings into Terrisa’s apartment because her landlord asked her to vacate her apartment due to national press coverage and media presence outside the home. They also had to work with lawyers in order to not unnecessarily incriminate themselves or the brave industry whistleblower who had turned over the babies' bodies. The final reason that they requested patience was to ensure that, when the documentation of these crimes against humanity were released to the general public, it was in the most respectful way possible for the victims. They wanted time to censor the genitals of each of the abortion victims in the photographs and videos that were to be released, and they wanted to attach the children’s names to each of their photographs.
This was harrowing work, and I am so grateful for Kristin Turner, who took the time to edit the photos and put together the videos that were used in the press conference. Having to view these photos and videos over and over again in order to complete this necessary work must have been an extremely emotional challenge.
During the time that the team at PAAU was coordinating the release of the information, representatives from other pro-life organizations who had been informed about the situation and brought in to give guidance chose to release uncensored images and videos without informing Lauren or Terrisa.
While I do not know what I would have done if I found myself in their position outside the clinic that day, I am confident that Lauren and Terrisa were acting with the best possible intentions.
This entire string of events has been extremely tense for everyone involved, and I understand why people had a range of emotional reactions to every part of this whole ordeal.
At the end of the day — no, Lauren Handy should never have had the bodies of deceased babies in her apartment. That is because Dr. Cesare Santangelo should have never killed those innocent children.
My hope is that, now that more information has been revealed, the anger that has been directed at Lauren will be redirected into a righteous zeal for justice for the babies unjustly killed at Washington Surgi-Clinic. This abortionist in particular also has a history of harming his patients; there are several medical malpractice lawsuits, including a wrongful death suit from the family of a woman who died after he botched her procedure.
Horrifically, Washington, DC, has no limits on legal abortion other than the few federal laws protecting the unborn. However, this abortionist has been recorded saying that if a baby were to be born alive during a post-viability abortion procedure at his clinic, he would refuse to provide medical care to the infant in violation of federal law.
Each and every baby whose life has been ended by Cesare Santangelo and by abortionists across the District deserved to live a life free from aggressive violence. Abortion at any stage is a horrific act of violence against a defenseless human being. These institutionalized systematic mass killings should not be normalized and certainly should not be legal. The fact that 115 babies were killed and only five of those deaths were potentially illegal is outrageous. Equally outrageous is that the police are now refusing to investigate the cause of death of these five children.
As we move forward, we must demand that law enforcement do their job and perform autopsies on each of the children’s remains currently in their custody. I am heartened to see that 23 members of Congress have already joined us in calling for an investigation into whether or not these children were killed by illegal partial-birth or born-alive abortion procedures.
Tomorrow — Thursday, April 7th — at 11 AM I will be joining a diverse coalition of activists outside the DC Mayor’s Office to demand #JusticeForTheFive. If no action is done we will then rally outside the DC Medical Examiner’s Office at 12 PM on Friday, April 8th. Please join us in working to hold the abortion industry accountable.