“It’s babies. It’s full of babies.”
Those were the first words out of Lauren Handy’s mouth when she cut open the red bag inside the medical waste box she had picked up outside the Washington Surgi-Clinic. By her and her colleague Terrisa Bukovinac’s account, the shell-shocked truck driver who handed it over to her had had no idea what was inside, until they told him what they suspected. Though they couldn’t be sure. If they were honest, they were bluffing a bit, following their gut.
“If you took [a box] what would you do with it?” he had asked.
“We would give them a proper burial and a funeral.”
Together with a priest, this is exactly what they did. In total, they picked out 115 names. They dug 110 graves. Graves for all except The Five.
It is The Five who have now made headlines, their fully-developed tiny bodies dramatically removed from Handy’s apartment, where they were awaiting a proper examination by a pathologist on suspicion of after-birth abortion. But Handy wasn’t there to see it. By chance, the FBI had already arrested her on old charges, a 2020 incident where she and her colleagues from PAAU (Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising) had physically obstructed a D. C. clinic. They did so in violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, passed in 1994 under Clinton, which made first offense a federal misdemeanor, second offense a federal felony. As activist Randall Terry has noted, this was “highly tailored” law. “You can do a sit-in in a library, you can do a sit-in in a car dealership, you can do a sit-in in a political office, but [if] you’re gonna do a sit-in in an abortion clinic, you’re gonna face federal charges.” (Source—a highly inflammatory anti-PAAU tweet, because I can’t seem to locate the full interview anywhere else.)
The official charges for that case are available here. They read like something out of a dystopian novel, informing us that the defendants “did willfully combine, conspire, and agree with one another, and with other persons known and unknown, to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate patients and employees of the Clinic in the District of Columbia in the free exercise and enjoyment of the rights and privileges secured to them by the laws of the United States—namely, the right to obtain and seek to obtain, and to provide and seek to provide, reproductive health services, as provided by 18 U. S. C. § 248 (c) (1).”
Controversy has swirled around the young progressive activists’ tactics, even among self-described fellow pro-lifers. Voting, advocating, counseling and picketing all fall within the range of acceptability. But marching into a clinic and blocking the way, ropes and chains in hand, is just too extra. It crosses a line.
Say you see someone drowning in a pool. I mean, for heaven sakes, you don’t go up to the yard and say, “Hey, there’s free help for you and your family. It’s okay, I’m praying for you.”
You don’t do that. You go. You go and get them out of the pool. You can and should help them.
Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing in support of Lauren for National Review, confesses that the young activist “has her number.” Lopez herself has often spotted trucks with boxes very like the box Handy and her colleagues snatched. But she’s never taken one, just like she’s never taken her activism beyond the sidewalk.
I never have, either, though I have a warm memory of doing a little peaceful picketing once outside a clinic in my Michigan hometown. A picture of me and my mother and a neighbor holding an “Adoption: The Loving Option” sign made local news. But it was a quiet occasion, and we suffered nothing worse than the slings and arrows of honking drive-by motorists. We met and chatted a little with a young journalist named Brandi Mannino, who was trying to expose illegal clinic practices that were putting mothers at risk. She hoped this could be what brought the whole thing crashing down. I remember that she was matter-of-fact and didn’t express herself with undue passion. Tragically, her life would later be cut short when she was swept out to Lake Michigan in a storm, along with her boyfriend, who appeared to have died a hero trying to save her. When I learned of her death, I regretted that I had never gotten to know her or learn more about her work. I hope someone carried it on.
We all have our reasons for why we are not Brandi Mannino or Lauren Handy. We could all talk about the meaningful fulfilling work we are doing instead. I certainly could. And I don’t think this is wrong. I have duties of care that would be broken were I to repeatedly drive to the nearest abortion mill and chain myself to the entrance.
Then again, Lauren has people who depend on her too. All of whom, somehow, she has already taken into account. She’s said she realized she needed to get better at this after going to jail for a rescue operation in 2019. If this was to become a semi-regular thing, she would have to get used to making contingency plans for women and families who relied on her help. People like “Momma B and M,” whom she was working with before going to do yet another rescue last year. “I’m going to be Rescuing soon,” she told them, “so it’s important to get y’all settled.” The little family gave her their blessing. It was important for her to do what she was doing. “They almost got us.”
Lauren is a singular figure in many ways. She has variously described herself as anti-racist, queer, and trans-inclusive. She campaigns for prison abolition. When SCOTUS heard oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, she stood outside holding a sign that said “Ask Me How I’m Catholic and Queer.”
To quote Linus from Peanuts, Lauren Handy and I are obviously separated by denominational differences.
It’s curious to think that I’ve been a Christian about three times as long as she has, even though we’re only a year apart (she’s a year younger). You can read her full testimony in the Pillar interview. She vividly describes a college “Saul-to-Paul” experience outside a Planned Parenthood in Roanoke, Virginia. At the time, she was an agnostic, but she was surrounded by Christians who prayed over her as she collapsed in shock at the sight of so many mothers entering the clinic. Afterwards, she told them she felt that it would be better to die with the clinic’s baby victims than to go on living. She was encouraged to go to church instead. She now claims an intense Catholic faith. Though her partner in the box procurement, Terrisa, is an atheist. They made an odd trio together with Randall Terry at last week’s press conference. It’s like the beginning of a joke: A queer Catholic anarchist, a secular humanist, and a right-wing theocrat walk into an abortion clinic….
Lauren has been accused of many things this week—recklessness, attention-mongering, exploitation, disrespect of the dead. Graphic images of The Five went viral in a thread by Live Action’s Lila Rose, released earlier than PAAU had intended. PAAU played their own footage of the unboxing at last Tuesday’s press conference, prefaced with ample warning and disclaimers for anyone who might be traumatized by the shocking sight.
The conference as live-streamed on Facebook was filmed at an angle that washed out the screen in white light for online viewers through much of the clip (better quality here). But I could see clearly enough. There was “Christopher X,” intact and bluish, who looked as if he had suffocated. There was “Harriet,” whose brains had been sucked out. Then “Angel,” “Holly” and “Phoenix,” one of whom was still in the sac, two of whom had been brutally dismembered. At one point, Lauren picks up and shows the camera a severed head.
One avowed fellow pro-life Catholic blogger who once supported Lauren has now written more than one piece writing her off. An evaluation of the press conference is a tissue of insinuations and finger-wagging, repeatedly referring to Lauren and her colleagues as “the youths.” She also writes in a subtly unpleasant fashion about the manner in which Lauren “poked and prodded” the bodies of The Five as she turned them for the camera. Never mind that Lauren was simply trying to provide a good clear look at violent injuries like those suffered by “Harriet.” For reasons unknown, this blogger has tentatively diagnosed Harriet with anencephaly. (Which I suppose she’s free to do. We must all live our truth.) She also gripes that by “tampering with the evidence,” Lauren and friends have now “made it MUCH more difficult” for the alleged abortionist, Santangelo, to be caught and tried for suspected infanticide. Never mind that had Lauren and Terrisa not taken the box into their loving care, the bodies inside would have been summarily incinerated, and nothing would have come of it one way or another.
Mind you, this blogger claims it doesn’t give her pleasure to write such things. She used to be a fan of Lauren, because Lauren was a hip, progressive pro-lifer. Not like those embarrassing, wacky pro-lifers way, way, way over there. But alas, Lauren just isn’t cool anymore. What an awful shame.
It is, indeed, an awful shame. But Lauren Handy is not the one who should be ashamed.