John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. He is especially interested in moral theology and the thought of John Paul II.
The United States Supreme Court used its most recent abortion case, Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, to split the difference: it upheld part of an Indiana law May 28 regulating the disposal of fetal remains after abortion, but refused to hear an appeal about the other part of that law, which banned abortions sought for eugenic or “protected category” reasons.
We’ll discuss the part of the appeal the Court refused to take in a future essay. Some thoughts about the fetal remains issue.
Since 1973, there have been almost 60,000,000 abortions in the United States. Have you ever wondered: where are the bodies?
That’s a good question.
Dr. Monica Miglorino Miller and her Citizens for a Prolife Society have made their mission scrounging through the trash and storage facilities of abortion clinics to recover and provide burial for the unborn children aborted there. Be forewarned: the Citizens website contains graphic galleries of bodies and body parts they’ve recovered. The story is also documented in Miller’s book. Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars.
Some folks might consider this work a bit bizarre or over the edge, but Miller forcefully reminds us that the last corporal work of mercy is “to bury the dead.” Catholics in the United States perhaps don’t think much about that work, because—unlike Mother Teresa’s experience—in the United States the dead and dying are not usually found in garbage cans. (No, our “culture of death” demands the “choice” to kill, in the womb or just before the tomb, but is oh so finicky about letting people actually see those “rights” in action. Just consider the censorship of the movie, “Unplanned”).
No, the dead are not normally left in the trash… except, perhaps, post-abortion.
As Miller documents, a Wisconsin waste disposal facility was combining fetal remains with euthanized animal carcasses from a nearby dog pound. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the recently enacted Washington State legislation allowing for “recomposting,” i.e., turning cadavers into mulch, drew its initial inspiration from how some farms disposed of cattle carcasses. Two ghoulish abortionists – Kermit Gosnell () and Michael Roth – kept fetal remains around in bottles. When Pennsylvania police raided Gosnell’s Philadelphia “house of horrors,” they found numerous specimen bottles of body parts. When Michigan abortionist Roth got into a car accident, local police 15 specimen bottles with body parts in his trunk.
Indiana, under then-Governor Pence, decided the least it could do was ensure that the remains of aborted babies were not turned into trash, ground up with animal remains, or hauled around like a cannibal’s trophy heads (à la Queequeg in Moby Dick). Roe v. Wade threw a bone to the states, claiming that sometimes they may have an “interest” in the “potential life” of an unborn child. That was among the bases the Hoosier State used to stipulate that fetal remains after abortion had to be either buried or cremated.
And that requirement set off this litigation.
Obama-appointee Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, of the U.S. District Court for Southern District of Indiana first threw out the Indiana law in 2017. She admitted that Indiana only needed to show a “rational basis” for the law, i.e., the least demanding criterion for review of a challenged statute, but in the end she could find no reasonable basis for Indiana’s requirement. Indiana argued that the fetal remains were “human,” but Pratt insisted that such a conclusion ran counter to Roe et al. v. Wade. For her, that ruling’s agnosticism about when life begins was controlling: if the Court could not determine when life began, neither could anybody else. In a display of the dictatorship of relativism, Pratt opined that “[w]hether or not an individual views fetal tissue as essentially the same as human remains is each person’s own personal and moral decision” (emphasis mine). And, in an illustration of perfectly circular reasoning, Pratt held that if Indiana contended that it had an “interest” in the “potential life” of the unborn baby, the fact that the baby was now dead extinguished any interest Indiana may have had in that life.
Laws like Indiana’s are anathema to abortionists because they indicate what is to them intolerable: that the entire legal landscape is not in concurrence with Roe’s feigned agnosticism about not knowing when life begins and the ruling’s practical conclusion that prenatal life ultimately does not matter. Any suggestion of humanity – whether it be what we do with the remains of an unborn child, whether we ban certain types of abortion (like partial birth or dismemberment abortions), or whether we even require the child be anesthetized before abortion – revives the essential question that abortionists studiously want to bury in lieu of babies: when does life begin?
Of course, there is another alternative to discarding unborn babies in the trash or turning them into “useful” plant mulch: abortionists can run a sideline in salvage, the medical equivalent of junk yard spare parts. Thar’s gold in them there spleens, livers and “calvaria” (skulls). (Oh, they have also sanitized the description of the sideline as “tissue procurement”).
Planned Parenthood was caught on video with its finger in the body parts cookie jar, an expose that abortionists ritually denounce as “edited” and for which they have sought to prosecute its maker, but which they have never demonstrated it to be actually … false. The House of Representatives also conducted hearings and issued a 400+ page report on trafficking in fetal body parts.
In the wake of Box v. Planned Parenthood, abortionists unleashed their own spleen on the ruling. A cursory survey of comments in The Washington Post, for example, asked whether Indiana would demand burial of tampons, ejaculate (“it’s alive”), or post-miscarriage hemorrhage, to ridicule the Indiana law. What should be really concerning is whether a civil society cannot even agree to a modicum of respect for what is clearly not a frog or a dog but at least “potentially” a human being. Has our society truly grown that coarse? Or is such gratuitous debasement of those remains driven simply by the ideological commitment to protect an unlimited abortion license at all costs? Indiana’s law, after all, imposed no obligations on the mother; the burden to provide burial or cremation is the fee-collecting abortionist’s.
No, what is at issue is refusing to engage the issue abortion poses. In Abandoned, Miller discusses how a clergyman presided over the burial of collected fetal remains. A passer-by asked a nearby policeman who had died. “Nobody,” was his response.
Abortionists want to insist that abortion involves “nobody” and will brook no discussion. And as long as that continues, abortion will remain a live issue, regardless of how many politicians want to pretend it’s “settled” and how many courts “call” Americans to acquiescence.
In the 1976 horror movie, “The Omen,” Ambassador Thorn discovers that the remains of his murdered newborn boy were buried by Satanists at Cerveteri, in a grave alongside a jackal. Cerveteri, near Rome, hosts an Etruscan necropolis. The Etruscans, as the film notes, practiced child sacrifice. The movie was fictional. But 43 years ago, American viewers instinctively grasped that burying a child with an animal was depraved. Where have we “progressed” in the past half-century?
All opinions contained in this essay are exclusively the author’s.