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Dispute brews over burial of fetuses from Philly abortion clinic

| Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, 8:54 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — The 47 fetuses discovered three years ago in a seedy Philadelphia abortion clinic dubbed a “house of horrors” are part of a dispute over whether abortion foes can claim the remains for burial.

An alliance of anti-abortion groups is pressing Philadelphia Medical Examiner Sam Gulino to give them the remains now that Dr. Kermit Gosnell is in jail and his clinic is closed, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Sunday.

Gosnell, 72, was found guilty in May of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies that prosecutors said were delivered alive and killed, and guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the drug-overdose death of a patient who had undergone an abortion. He was acquitted in the murder of a fourth baby.

Prosecutors estimated Gosnell ended hundreds of pregnancies by inducing labor and cutting the babies' spinal cords, and caused scores of women to suffer infections and permanent internal injuries, but they said they couldn't prosecute more cases because he destroyed files.

Gulino said his office does not release remains to “unrelated third parties.” He has assured Priests for Life, Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania, Christian Defense Coalition and others that the remains will get “a proper and respectful disposition.”

Michael McMonagle, president of the Pro-Life Coalition, said the groups will pay for the burials.

“We're doing this to try to bring dignity to their deaths,” McMonagle told the Inquirer, adding that he thinks city officials don't want to appear they're taking a side in abortion politics.

To pressure the city, the groups have tried publicizing their offer. On July 19, they conducted a prayer vigil and protest at the medical examiner's office in West Philadelphia. They hinted at suing, consulted lawyers and ultimately decided against it.

Now, after unsuccessful dealings between their lawyer and a city lawyer for Gulino, the groups are returning to the street, with rallies planned for Sunday night at Drexel University's Bossone Research Center and Monday morning outside the medical examiner's office.

Gulino spokesman James Garrow said abortion politics had nothing to do with not releasing the remains to the anti-abortion groups. “Basically, we're just following the protocols of our office,” Garrow said.

Among those disputing that claim is Catherine Glenn Foster, a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom of Scottsdale, Ariz., which is backing the anti-abortion groups.

Foster cited the “FAQ” section of the medical examiner's website, which says: “Anyone, including friends and neighbors, may claim a body three days after the date of pronouncement of death.”

In an Aug. 5 reply to Foster, Chief Deputy City Solicitor Lynda H. Moore wrote that the groups did not “have legal standing to represent the citizens of Philadelphia.”

Garrow said the medical examiner's office would hold unclaimed remains for 10 years, though they would be cremated once the staff exhausts efforts to find relatives. After 10 years, Garrow said, cremated remains are buried in local cemeteries.

Abortion foes have vowed to hold funerals for the fetuses even without their remains.

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