Burial of Fetuses Set for Oct. 6; Anti-Abortion Group to Pray

Times Staff Writer

The 16,500 fetuses found in Woodland Hills, subject of a three-year court battle between anti-abortion and pro-choice groups, will be buried Oct. 6 at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in East Los Angeles, an attorney for a Los Angeles mortuary said Friday.

Attorney Jack Schuler said no effort will be made to stop anti-abortion groups from conducting burial prayers at the graveside.

At least two anti-abortion groups immediately announced plans for such rites.


The controversy over graveside ceremonies, which anti-abortion groups contend the fetuses merit as the remains of human beings, has been the central issue of the court dispute. Pro-choice groups argued that the fetuses are waste human tissue, not the remains of individual persons, and that funeral-type services would violate the privacy of the women who had the abortions.

Stored at Mortuary

The fetuses are stored at the Guerra-Gutierrez-Alexander Mortuary, which has been holding them for Los Angeles County health officials.

Schuler said the mortuary will deliver the remains in six pine coffins to the cemetery for burial and that cemetery officials will hold them above ground for a length of time that day, before lowering them into three side-by-side, unmarked graves.

He would not say how long the period of time will be. Asked repeatedly by reporters whether the delay in burial would encourage anti-abortion groups to hold services for them, Schuler said the burial would conform with a court order requiring a non-religious burial.

The delay will make clear there is nothing secret about the burials, he said.

Outside Schuler’s Granada Hills office, Susie Carpenter McMillan, a spokeswoman for Feminists for Life, an anti-abortion group, said members of the group will pray individually at the graveside before the coffins are lowered, but do not plan a full-scale memorial service because one was held in May.

Anti-Abortion Group Plans Service

However, Jeannette Dreisbach of Palm Springs, spokeswoman for another anti-abortion group, Americans Committed to Loving the Unwanted, said in a telephone interview that her group will hold a service.

Dreisbach said her group, which she said has 68 members in the Los Angeles area, has invited President Reagan to give a eulogy at the graveside, but has not received a reply.

Eydie Berg, director of the Los Angeles Feminist Women’s Health Center, which went to court to require that the fetuses be incinerated instead of buried, called the burial plans “a huge, scandalous act.”

“I think a woman who gets an abortion has a right to expect that the tissue will be disposed of in some undramatic, unpublic way,” she said.

Found at Lab Operator’s Home

The fetuses were found in February, 1982, in a shipping container confiscated at the Woodland Hills home of Malvin Weisberg, who operated a medical laboratory in Santa Monica. The discovery set off a legal battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court let stand a state appellate court ruling that the fetuses could not receive burial ceremonies because that would place the power of the state on the side of the anti-abortionists’ argument that the fetuses were human beings.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, after the court rulings, ordered the fetuses buried without religious services, and turned them over to executives of the mortuary, who volunteered to find a cemetery that would comply with the order.

The Feminist Women’s Health Center filed a court action to block the burial, which was denied on on Sept. 13 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien. The center appealed O’Brien’s decision to the state Supreme Court. In a decision Thursday, the state high court refused to review it.

“I don’t think there is much more we can do as far as litigation goes,” Berg said Friday.