Pro-Lifers Raise Alarm Over Practices of DC Late-Term Abortionist Cesare Santangelo

In the wake of last month’s recovery of the remains of 115 aborted babies outside of his abortion facility, pro-life advocates continue to demand an investigation into possible criminal violations related to how the babies were killed.

Pro-life activists Lauren Handy (c) and Joan Andrews Bell (r) listen as Terrisa Bukovinac speaks during a news conference April 5 at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, D.C. The activists are members of the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) group.
Pro-life activists Lauren Handy (c) and Joan Andrews Bell (r) listen as Terrisa Bukovinac speaks during a news conference April 5 at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, D.C. The activists are members of the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) group. (photo: Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. It contains graphic descriptions that sensitive readers may find offensive. 

WASHINGTON — Pro-life advocates continue to call for an investigation into the deaths of five aborted babies whose bodies were recently obtained by pro-life activists Lauren Handy and Terrisa Bukovinac. 

The women, who are with the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAUU) group, say that a Curtis Bay Medical Waste Services driver gave them one box, containing the remains of 115 aborted babies, which he alleged came from the waste left outside the Washington Surgi-Clinic in the District of Columbia. Dr. Cesare Santangelo, a known late-term abortionist, appears to be the only doctor licensed at the clinic. Live Action produced property records that show an LLC with his name as the owner of the facility. The activists are especially concerned because five of the babies appeared to be close to full term. The pro-lifers and some experts suspect that they may have been born alive and left to die, with one having injuries that suggest it was the victim of an illegal partial-birth abortion.

The activists also seek investigation into possible criminal actions undertaken by the late-term abortionist who killed the unborn children.

In addition to demanding an investigation from the Department of Justice, the FBI and D.C. officials into whether Santangelo is violating federal law based on the remains of these five babies, pro-lifers have pointed to past revelations about Santangelo, including a 2011 malpractice lawsuit over the death of a woman who went to his abortion business and his admission on camera from a 2012 Live Action investigation that he would leave a baby born alive to die.


The Live Action Investigation

Handy told the Register that one of the “motivating factors” for her to join the pro-life movement full time in 2013 was “seeing the Live Action undercover videos at his [Santangelo’s] abortion facility.” In a recorded conversation with an undercover pro-life activist who was 24-weeks pregnant in November 2012, Santangelo said when asked about the possibility of the baby surviving, “I cut the umbilical cord first, wait for the baby to expire, and then we do it that way. ... Hopefully the fetus will expire first; then we do the pregnancy termination that way.” 

When pressed about what would happen if the baby was born alive, Santangelo told the investigator that “legally we would be obligated to help it to survive. But you know it probably wouldn’t. It’s all in how vigorously you do things to help a fetus survive at this point.” The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, passed in 2002, clarifies that infants born alive after abortion are “persons” under federal law, thus requiring lifesaving care. 

He went on to say that if the woman “delivered before we got to the termination part of the procedure here, then we would do things — we would — we would not help it. We wouldn’t intubate, let’s say.” He even contrasted their approach with a hospital’s, saying, “If you were in a hospital in Virginia, let’s say, and you went into labor, and you went to the hospital, and then they saw you deliver, they would do everything possible to help that fetus survive.” 

He continued, “We’ve had patients that on the second day of the laminaria, they got some contractions and they panicked, and they were in Virginia at the hospital, and they went to the hospital because they had some pain. Instead of calling me, you know, and just went to the hospital and the hospital helped them to deliver, which was the stupidest thing they could have done.” 

Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action, told the Register that it has been nearly a decade since that video and that investigative work was done, and “we know that these abortionists are operating in our communities, and there is little to no enforcement of existing laws.”

Shortly after the release of the video in 2013, Santangelo told The Washington Post that he stood by what he said in the recording, adding that he would call 911. “What I said is, basically, I wouldn’t do anything extraordinary,” he said. “We would call EMS. We would call 911. But I wouldn’t do intubation or anything. ... You let nature take its course.”


Malpractice Lawsuit and Complaints 

In addition to Santangelo’s statement that he would “let nature take its course” for babies born alive in his facility, which advertises abortions “up to 27-plus weeks of pregnancy,” there was a malpractice lawsuit that alleged that, in 2010, a patient he treated died because he, among other things, failed to call 911 in a timely manner.

Handy told the Register that she found records while working with Operation Rescue in 2018 revealing that Santangelo faced a wrongful-death lawsuit from the family of Rebecca Carey Charland, who died following a dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedure to remove the body of her unborn child after a miscarriage in her second trimester. 

In the documents from the case, which appears to have been settled out of court in 2012, Charland’s family argued that Santangelo failed to advise her that, “given her medical history, including antiphospholipid syndrome, use of Lovenex and aspirin, and the fetal demise had occurred 2+ weeks prior, that it would be safer for her to undergo the procedure in a hospital setting.” The lawsuit noted that Santangelo “did not have any hospital privileges and could not perform the D&E in a hospital setting.” According to the document, Santangelo “failed to perform appropriate resuscitation efforts” and “failed to timely call 911.” 

Handy said that knowing about Charland’s death was part of what made her decide to do a “rescue” on Oct. 22, 2020, where she and eight other pro-life activists blocked access to the Washington Surgi-Clinic. As a result of that action, on March 30, they were indicted on federal civil-rights conspiracy and Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act offenses for allegedly “using a physical obstruction to injure, intimidate and interfere with the clinic’s employees and a patient, because they were providing or obtaining reproductive health services.” She faces up to 11 years in prison if convicted.

In response to a 2018 Freedom of Information Act request from Operation Rescue, a D.C. Department of Health review revealed a 2013 complaint against Santangelo from a department head at George Washington Hospital of “bad outcomes related to abortions.” The peer review concluded that “his complication rate is lower than standard” and said he was “the ‘go-to’ referral for these kind of high-risk cases.” It did recommend, however, that he “consider conducting terminations with ultrasound guidance to reduce risk of uterine perforation” and “ensure that pre-consent and consent-to-surgery forms are uniform and do not have any differences, thereby preventing miscommunication.” 

The peer review also assessed and took no action on a 2010 complaint from a hospital in Spotsylvania, Virginia, of a “botched abortion.”


Partial-Birth Abortion?

Bukovinac told the Register that when she and Handy went to the Washington Surgi-Clinic on March 25, they saw the Curtis Bay Medical Waste Services truck, and she told the driver that there were “dead babies” in the box. After Handy said they would ensure “they get a burial and a funeral,” she said the driver gave them the box. Curtis Bay Medical Waste Services denies transporting fetal remains and has no explanation for the box with their labels containing the remains.

They opened the box at Handy’s apartment and found the remains of 110 first trimester babies and later arranged a funeral Mass and burial for them. Bukovinac said they opened a larger container and found the remains of a “beautiful baby boy” who “looked like a literal, full-term baby.”  She remarked, “We really thought we were prepared for this, but it was just the worst thing we’ve ever seen.” Rose said that in the case of the little boy, “based on testimony we’ve heard from other later abortion clinics, I think it is certainly a strong possibility that this little boy was born alive and was dumped in a bucket of some sort of solution where they would store his body, and basically he was drowned.”

Live Action released images of the baby boy and some of the other four, nearly-full-term babies found in the box. One “pro-choice” OB-GYN, Dr. Forrest Smith, who says he has performed more than 50,000 abortions, told Live Action that the remains of a baby girl whose skull appeared to be crushed could be the victim of a partial-birth abortion. 

Pro-life Dr. Kathi Aultman, a board-certified OB-GYN who performed abortions prior to becoming pro-life, told Live Action that “there appears to be an incision at the base of the skull, and the head has been decompressed by removing the brain. This is consistent with an Intact D&E [dilation and evacuation] or D&X [dilation and extraction]. If the baby was alive at the start of this procedure, it would be considered a partial-birth abortion and would be illegal.”

The 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Act prohibits “any physician or other individual from knowingly performing a partial-birth abortion, except when necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury.” A “partial-birth abortion” is “an abortion in which the person performing the abortion: 1) deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the mother’s body, or, in the case of a breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the mother’s body; and 2) performs the overt act, other than completion of delivery, that kills the partially delivered living fetus.”

Bukovinac described two of the babies, a boy and a girl, who “were also very late term, but had been just brutally dismembered.” She couldn’t “imagine the strength needed to rip up fully formed bones, especially if it’s true that Santangelo is not using Digoxin, then these babies were definitely big enough to fight back.” Digoxin is a feticide used to ensure the demise of an unborn baby prior to an abortion. 

Rose commented that “there’s no evidence that Santangelo used feticide; in fact, he has said that they don’t use feticide when we’ve had some investigative work on him done, and so that means these children were likely torn limb from torso while they were alive.”

The final baby they found “was completely in the amniotic sac,” Bukovinac said. “You can see this beautiful foot and head — and clearly very late term.” Rose said, for this baby, he or she “was likely born alive because if he doesn’t use the feticide, that child would have just been born alive, and then he would have left him or her to die.”

Another reason there are concerns about the children being born alive, Handy said, is that, “oftentimes, the abortionist will cut the umbilical cord, and then the child will die that way,” but she “held each of those children, and there were no interruptions with the umbilical cord. The umbilical cord was attached to the child and attached to the placenta.” 


Other Late-Term Abortionists

Rose said Santangelo’s case is “very much like what happened in Philadelphia with Kermit Gosnell for three decades. He killed a woman. He operated by committing infanticide, killing nearly full-term infants, just like Santangelo, and he got away with it for three decades.” 

Nurse Julie Wilkinson, a pro-life advocate who worked for late-term abortionist Warren Hern in Colorado in the 1980s, told the Register that sometimes he would “deliver the baby intact, but most times he would end up dismembering and, for their sakes, one hopes that they would die before that happened,” but she said there were times when the baby didn’t die before that, and she knew because one of her jobs at the facility was to “listen for fetal heart tones if they were still alive.”

Wilkinson expressed surprise that the bodies in D.C. had been obtained by pro-lifers, saying Hern was “very paranoid even then about body parts, and he was extremely careful about where things went, not because he cared about the babies, because he didn’t want somebody finding it.” Hern, 83, still performs abortions in Boulder, Colorado. Wilkinson said that, like many late-term abortionists, he had some disturbing beliefs, pointing to his 2018 paper “Why Are There So Many of Us?” where he wrote, “the human species is an example of a malignant ecotumor, an uncontrolled proliferation of a single species that threatens the existence of other species” and concluded that “the human population is a planetary cancer.” 

In regards to the images of the babies who died at the D.C. abortion facility, Wilkinson said that while people may find them disturbing, for some people, “until they see the picture, they don’t really believe it. This has been going on for a long time, and so if this is what it took to get people to wake up, then that’s great.”