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The '5 Fetuses' Story Just Got a Lot Weirder

Police found five fetuses in the home of an anti-abortion activist last week. Turns out they had 115.

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Randall Terry, Terrisa Bukovinac, and Lauren Handy at a PAAU press conference in Washington, DC, on April 5, 2022.
Randall Terry, Terrisa Bukovinac, and Lauren Handy at a PAAU press conference in Washington, DC, on April 5, 2022.
Screenshot: Facebook/PAAUNow (Fair Use)

Last week, Washington, D.C., police said they found five human fetuses in the basement apartment of anti-abortion activist Lauren Handy. Needless to say, people have a lot of questions about this situation, and Handy—the director of activism at Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU)—has not provided any answers. But PAAU, a group that launched in October 2021, hinted that they have more fetuses in their possession and said they would release more information at a press conference today.

So that happened, and the group revealed that Handy actually possessed not five but 115 (!!) sets of fetal remains. Handy, a self-described “Catholic anarchist” who is nonbinary, claimed that they got the fetuses from a worker at a medical waste company, which said company disputes. The group also showed a video of people “unboxing” and inspecting the fetal remains.

PAAU founder and executive director Terrisa Bukovinac claimed at the press conference that, on March 25, she and Handy were at Washington Surgi-Clinic on F Street NW to protest, saw a truck from Curtis Bay Medical Waste, approached the driver, and said they would take the waste and give the remains “a proper burial.” They said the box contained 110 first-trimester fetuses, which they said they buried, and five fetuses from later abortions that, based on their condition, PAAU suggested violated a 2003 federal law against dilation and extraction (D&X) abortions. But they could not find a private pathologist to confirm these claims, so they alerted DC police on March 29 to request an investigation into their deaths.

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Another speaker, Missy Smith, claimed that “Curtis Bay energy states on their website that they burn biomedical waste to sustain the energy needs of the Baltimore area. This means tragically that they receive, transfer, and burn the corpses of aborted babies to make electricity for the households and businesses of the Baltimore area.”

Curtis Bay has not responded to Jezebel’s request for comment, but in a statement the company provided to WUSA9, it denied the allegations made at the press conference:

“On March 25, a Curtis Bay employee took custody of three packages from the Washington Surgery Center (Washington Surgi-Clinic) and delivered all of them to Curtis Bay’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. As stated in client agreements and company policy, customers like Washington Surgi-Clinic are prohibited from disposing of fetuses and human remains via Curtis Bay’s services. Curtis Bay provides its clients with medical waste bags and boxes to use in a manner that complies with applicable law, client agreements and company policy. Curtis Bay continues to fully cooperate with law enforcement.”

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Taking a step back for a second: The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) told Jezebel it had received a tip about biohazard material in an apartment on the 400 block of 6th Street, SE, in Capitol Hill. The medical examiner collected the material on March 30, and the next day, police confirmed that what they’d collected were fetuses. Also last week, the Department of Justice announced that Handy and eight others were facing federal charges for blockading Washington Surgi-Clinic on F Street NW in October 2020. They each face up to a maximum of 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000. Handy, 28, of Alexandria, Virginia, has also invaded clinics in Virginia and Michigan with the group Red Rose Rescue.

After news of the five fetuses got out, PAAU said in a statement that one of the federal defendants arranged for DC police to pick up the evidence and posted a photo of a letter from an attorney informing police of the existence of the fetuses from later abortions. The group also characterized the people who received the fetuses as “whistleblowers.”

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Skeptical people might look at this information and think, Huh, they called a tip in on themselves, used the term ‘whistleblower,’ and hyped up a forthcoming press conference. Sounds a lot like what Jacob Wohl and James O’Keefe are known for doing!

Here are some other pieces of information that skeptical people may find interesting:

They have ties to the discredited Center for Medical Progress

Jezebel obtained the full text of the letter sent to MPD by a right-wing lawyer named Steve Cooley, who told Jezebel by email that he isn’t representing either Handy or PAAU. Cooley previously represented David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress in legal proceedings stemming from the group’s July 2015 release of surreptitiously filmed and deceptively edited videos of conversations with Planned Parenthood employees. CMP tried to smear the organization as “selling baby body parts” when in fact they were facilitating the transfer of donated fetal tissue to medical researchers. CMP’s videos generated a firestorm of coverage and, in November 2015, a man who shot up a Colorado Planned Parenthood health center, killing three and wounding nine, muttered “no more baby parts” to investigators.

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Daleiden himself is amplifying PAAU’s false claims from its press conference on social media.

They’re working with violent clinic harassers

Randall Terry, who is serving as PAAU’s media representative and hosted today’s press conference, is the founder of the now-defunct clinic harassment group Operation Rescue. In 2002, Operation Rescue relocated to Wichita, Kansas, with the stated goal of putting later abortion provider Dr. George Tiller out of business. An anti-abortion extremist murdered Dr. Tiller in the foyer of his church in 2009 and, the day after, Terry said “pro-life leaders and the pro-life movement are not responsible for George Tiller’s death. George Tiller was a mass-murder and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed.” Terry appeared in a 2010 Rachel Maddow documentary on the murder saying that the group’s strategy was to “find out where the child-killer lives. Find out where his wife has her hair done.” Multiple speakers at the press conference named the provider at the Washington Surgi-Clinic multiple times—Jezebel is choosing not to name him due to violence against abortion providers.

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The group’s claims are not checking out

A reporter at the press conference asked if PAAU had video of the alleged exchange with the Curtis Bay driver, and Bukovinac said they did not. Another reporter read the company’s statement and asked Bukovinac to respond and she said the driver had already scanned the boxes before they approached him. She added, “I am not sure if Curtis Bay is lying or if he simply already scanned them in, and so therefore they’re accounting for them…it’s definitely possible that they don’t know what is inside the box. It’s possible that [the doctor] was in violation of his contract with Curtis Bay by putting these [fetuses] in this box. But one of them is in the wrong, one of them needs to be held accountable.”

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This is not how the chain of custody works for evidence—no one can prove where the fetuses came from, and Curtis Bay disputes that they came from the clinic. It’s like Matt Gaetz claiming he entered “Hunter Biden’s laptop” into the Congressional record.

Another reporter asked how PAAU knew that the abortions weren’t done to save the life of the pregnant person, which is an allowed exception under the 2003 D&X ban. “We don’t know, which is exactly why we contacted the police asking them for an autopsy,” she said, ignoring that conducting an autopsy on a fetus would not indicate the presence of health problems in the pregnant person.

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Ashan Benedict, MPD’s executive assistant chief of police, said in a press conference last week that “those fetuses were aborted in accordance with D.C. law, so we are not investigating this incident along those lines. There doesn’t seem to be anything criminal in nature right now about that, except for how they got into this house, and so we’ll continue to look at that.”

What does PAAU have to gain here?

One, false claims about things like burning fetal remains for electricity certainly do distract from the fact that Handy and eight others are facing more than 10 years in prison for blockading the same abortion clinic back in 2020.

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Terry made this strategy somewhat explicit in comparing the DC abortion provider to the notorious Kermit Gosnell while calling Handy a hero facing unfair punishment. “Gosnell—many of you are familiar with the abortionist in Philadelphia—he’s in prison for the rest of his life without parole because he was doing abortions like this and [the DC provider] is a criminal. These people are heroes and they’re facing jail and [the DC provider] is a mass murderer walking free while the DOJ persecutes the innocent.”

Two, the group is likely using lurid imagery of fetuses from abortions later in pregnancy to drum up more support for banning abortion in the second and third trimesters. By the end of June, the Supreme Court is widely expected to uphold a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks, if not overturn Roe v. Wade entirely. Even a Wall Street Journal poll out this week suggested that while a majority of Americans want abortion to remain legal in all or most cases, more people supported a 15-week ban than opposed it.

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But of course, anti-abortion groups like PAAU don’t want to stop at 15 weeks—they believe in fetal personhood, which would outlaw all abortions. Stunts like this one are a distracting sideshow.