CHICAGO Although 40 years have passed since her abortion, the woman at the cemetery described a sense of loss and regret that transcends time.
Someone will always be missing, is how Jennifer Shea explained the pain following her decision to terminate an unplanned pregnancy when she was 19 in 1979.
Yet the Chicago-area woman finds some comfort in praying at the site of a simple gray tombstone, which bears the epitaph HOLY INNOCENTS PREBORN CHILDREN OF GOD, at St. Mary Catholic Cemetery in southwest suburban Evergreen Park. It marks a grave where hundreds of human fetal remains were buried in 1987, salvaged by anti-abortion activists from a dumpster behind a now-defunct abortion clinic on Michigan Avenue.
Its the least I can do to honor my own lost child, to honor each of those here and to honor God for the mercy and forgiveness he has shown me, Shea told a crowd of roughly 80 gathered at the gravesite Sept. 14 for an annual event called the National Day of Remembrance for Aborted Children.
The prayer vigil was one of about 200 memorials held across the country, many at other burial sites of fetal remains. Locally, similar commemorations were held at the gravesites of aborted fetuses in west suburban Hillside and southwest suburban Romeoville.
These fetal tissues are often considered medical waste, typically disposed of in the same manner as the byproduct of other surgeries or health procedures.
Yet those against abortion have long held that fetal remains deserve a dignified burial akin to any human death. Now court rulings and federal policies are increasingly shifting in their favor, igniting emotional debate over what the remains of a fetus signify and how they should be handled in their final disposition.
The U.S. Supreme Court in May upheld an Indiana provision requiring burial or cremation following an abortion or miscarriage at a medical facility, legislation signed by the states former governor, Vice President Mike Pence. The law went into effect earlier this month.
The state of Indiana feels that fetal remains should be treated with the same dignity and respect that is usually given to deceased humans, said a spokeswoman for Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill.
Planned Parenthood officials said in a statement that the restriction has nothing to do with medical care and was instead designed to shame and stigmatize women and families.
Texas earlier this month attempted to revive its burial of fetal remains law, which was blocked by a federal judge last year.
At best, enshrining the States view of pregnancy increases the grief, stigma, shame, and distress of women experiencing an abortion, whether induced or spontaneous, the Texas U.S. District judge found in 2018.
The matter is pending before a federal appeals court.
The Trump administration in June announced that it would be halting use of human fetal tissue in medical research by government scientists a priority of the presidents anti-abortion supporters but largely denounced by the scientific community.
This research is critical for the development of new treatments for a wide range of serious diseases, states a letter to the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services that was signed by dozens of science and medical organizations, including the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and the Skokie-based International Society for Stem Cell Research.
At the memorial in Evergreen Park, participants lined up to approach the gravesite individually, each leaving a pink or blue carnation at the headstone.
Several priests spoke, and one lamented the news that more than 2,200 medically preserved fetal remains were discovered this month at the Will County home of a dead doctor who had performed abortions in Indiana. Authorities are still investigating that case.
this gruesome discovery exposes the reality of the abortion industry, which destroys innocent babies for profit on a similar scale every day, dismantling the lie that abortion is health care, said a statement released Monday by Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national organization that supports political candidates who oppose abortion.
The group of a half-dozen anti-abortion activists would head out after dark, making multiple trips over a two-month period in 1987 to retrieve boxes of hundreds of fetal remains discovered in the garbage behind a Chicago abortion clinic.
Monica Migliorino Miller, co-director of the National Day of Remembrance and a native of south suburban Chicago Heights, recounted these nights in her book Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars.
I was living an unusual life, digging through trash dumpsters on a Chicago loading dock and picking the bodies of human beings out of the trash, said Miller, who now lives in Michigan. I kept boxes of aborted children, draped with a rosary, in my closet. My mind became forever etched with the memory of hundreds of dismembered, broken bodies their blood, intestines and torn skin.
Before the burial, she and her colleagues displayed some of the fetuses outside the abortion clinic in May 1987, according to a Chicago Tribune story.
The demonstration was designed to highlight the abortion holocaust that is going on all over America today, Joseph Scheidler, then the executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, told the Tribune at the time.
A funeral service was held in 2001 at Resurrection Cemetery in Romeoville for aborted fetuses retrieved from a laboratory at a Wisconsin hospital.
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1988 led a burial service for some 2,000 aborted fetuses laid to rest in two caskets at Queen of Heaven Catholic Cemetery in Hillside; the anti-abortion activists had taken those remains from the loading dock of a north suburban laboratory, according to a National Day of Remembrance website.
The cardinal in his homily spoke of how every life, at every stage of development from conception to natural death and in all its circumstances, is sacred and beloved by God, the Tribune reported.
Reproductive rights advocates were outraged.
Colleen K. Connell, now the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, had called the burial a shameless publicity stunt.
Its one thing for the cardinal to say the Catholic Church is opposed to abortion, she told the Tribune at the time. But its quite another for him to participate in an action which demeans the personal privacy and integrity of women who may or may not be churchgoers.
She had questioned whether laws were violated in providing and transporting the fetuses as well as anyone who gave information on the location of the remains though she conceded there likely wouldnt be legal action without an individual to bring a complaint.
If these people respect human life, why cart this fetal tissue around the country and save it up for a media stunt? she had said.
To Miller, these burials were critical to illustrate that the unborn are human beings they are not trash, they are people, she said in a telephone interview.
Abortion opposition has been her lifes work, many times running afoul of the law: Miller estimated that shes been arrested more than 50 times at abortion protests across the country from 1978 to 2017, often for trespassing or disorderly conduct; she served seven months in jail after a demonstration in Wisconsin in 1989 and 32 more days in jail following a Michigan protest in 2017.
Social justice is not accomplished without radical acts of love, taking risks and making sacrifices on behalf of those who are oppressed, Miller said, adding that her acts were always nonviolent.
The National Abortion Federation in May released statistics citing a rise in incidents of trespassing, obstruction and vandalism directed at abortion providers last year. The organization attributed the increase to the growing anti-abortion rhetoric of politicians.
In 2018 the number of individuals attempting to intimidate patients and disrupt patient services continued to increase at an alarming rate, the report stated. We know those who oppose abortion feel emboldened to demonize abortion providers when they see elected officials spreading misleading propaganda and that was true in 2018.
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Various tussles over the disposition of human fetal remains have played out in courtrooms and public demonstrations across the country.
A Catholic church in Boulder, Colo., in 2005 buried the ashes of hundreds of fetuses obtained from a mortuary contracted to cremate the remains by a local abortion clinic, which didnt know the ashes were being given to the church.
Police in 1992 arrested a clergyman in Buffalo, N.Y., for pushing a formaldehyde-soaked human fetus in the faces of abortion rights activists.
In 1985, the remains of more than 16,000 fetuses were buried in California and eulogized by President Ronald Reagan after a three-year battle over their disposition. Singer Pat Boone recorded a song called Sixteen Thousand Faces to honor the remains and protest abortion, according to the Los Angeles Times.
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At the local memorial service in Evergreen Park Sept. 14, participants recited a special prayer to end abortion.
I commit myself to be active in the pro-life movement, they vowed in unison, and never to stop defending life until all my brothers and sisters are protected.
Shea left a flower at the headstone along with the rest of the crowd. She serves as a Chicago-area regional coordinator for the national Silent No More Awareness Campaign, which speaks out to help others heal after abortions.
While the cemetery doesnt hold the remains of her terminated pregnancy, which occurred years before the burial, Shea said its important for her to pay her respects at the grave.
Because of the humanity of those lost lives, she said.
2019 Chicago Tribune
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PHOTOS (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): ABORTION-MEMORIALS
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