Ending their unsuccessful two-year struggle to bury 16,500 fetuses, several hundred anti-abortion activists and their supporters held a memorial service Sunday in a Monrovia cemetery to honor what one speaker called "these nameless children."
The abortion foes, whose plans became ensnarled in a court battle over the separation of church and state, laid a tiny white casket and wreaths of flowers next to a cemetery plot that was marked with a plaque dedicated to "all who were deprived of human love."
The furor over what to do with the fetuses--found in February, 1982, at the home of a medical laboratory owner--symbolized the philosophic root of the abortion issue: whether a fetus is a human being.
Supreme Court Ruling
Anti-abortion activists and Los Angeles County officials sought court permission to bury the fetuses in 1983. Feminists and officials of the American Civil Liberties Union contended, however, that the fetuses were merely medical tissue that should be incinerated. They won a series of court rulings, ending with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in March that let stand a state appellate court ruling against burial.
Sunday, representatives of dozens of anti-abortion and religious groups gathered to "tell the country and the world that these children may be disposed of, but somebody is remembering them," said Susie Carpenter McMillan, a spokeswoman for Feminists for Life, a group that helped organize the event.
Several anti-abortion politicians and clergymen addressed the crowd that gathered at Live Oak Memorial Park. A single solemn bagpiper played while partisans in black armbands filed by the small casket. The red-robed children's choir from a Catholic church sang, and a tape recording of a new song by singer and anti-abortionist Pat Boone was played. Titled "16,000 Faces," the song includes such lyrics as: "16,000 mamas hidin' from the child she didn't save."
Speakers at what was called an "American Holocaust Memorial" took pains to refer to the fetuses as "children" and "babies" and said those who defend a woman's right to choose abortion are the moral equals of Nazis and slave owners.
'All Heaven Stands Silent'
Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), who several years ago authored a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, said that stopping "this slaughter of innocent life . . . should be the first order of business" in every political jurisdiction in the country.
McMillan told the audience, "I believe that all heaven stands silent at this moment, watching you remember" the unborn.
The fetuses were found in a shipping container confiscated from the Woodland Hills home of a man who had operated a Santa Monica laboratory. Authorities concluded that they could not prosecute because state and federal court decisions had invalidated California's 1967 therapeutic abortion law, which barred abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Anti-abortion and religious groups then sought to organize a formal burial for the fetuses. John Van de Kamp, then district attorney, sought court permission for the burial, but it was blocked by the ACLU lawsuit, which urged that the remains be incinerated.
The state appellate court agreed, holding in a unanimous decision that the fetuses could not be given burial as human remains because it would "enlist the prestige and power of the state" for the belief that abortion is murder.
County officials, arguing that burial would prove less complex and less costly than incineration, appealed that ruling but lost in both the state and federal Supreme courts.
Fetuses Still Being Stored
The county unsuccessfully contended that the arrangement between the religious groups and a cemetery was separate from the county's role in the case and that there was a "complete lack of religious symbolism" in the mere burial of the fetuses.
The fetuses are still being stored by the county coroner's office and the county Department of Health Services, a coroner's spokesman said. The anticipated incineration of the fetuses has been delayed by a request filed in court by the county Board of Supervisors, which is still trying to gain permission to hold a burial at a "non-religious, non-disclosed" location, according to Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
Antonovich, who spoke at Sunday's service, said he believes that such conditions would meet the concerns of the state appellate court.