Many people have seen photographs of aborted babies. But where did they come from? The photographer of many of those pictures tells her story. This is the testimony of Monica Migliorino Miller from the Priests for Life website.
“Truth. What Does that Mean?” I think we are in rats’ alley where the dead men lost their bones.
(T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland)
When we pulled our cars slowly into the dark alley behind the Michigan Avenue Medical Center, rats scurried before our headlights, frightened by the noise of our intrusion. Our three-vehicle caravan parked in the alley off Monroe Street in downtown Chicago. We stopped in front of a loading dock upon which stood three garbage dumpsters and a filthy blue-colored trash barrel. The abortion clinic’s address, “30 So.,” was crudely painted on the barrel in white lettering. It had rained in the Loop earlier that day, causing the alley pavement to shine with a slimy oil. The filth and stench of rotting garbage nearly overwhelmed the eight of us, that included Tim Murphy, Peter Krump, Andy Scholberg, Jerry McCarthy, Joe Scheidler and a pathologist from Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke’s hospital.
We climbed onto the loading dock, opened the dumpsters, and began to search through the trash. I opened a red dumpster and yanked out one or two bags of garbage from the Michigan Avenue Medical Center. I peered into the bottom of the dumpster and saw a bag that was baby blue in color. As I hauled the bag out it was heavier than the others. I rested it on the loading dock and opened it. The top was stuffed with used and bloody surgical paper. At the very bottom was a small, heavy cardboard box. It was about the size of two shoe boxes and was sealed in silver duct tape. I carefully cradled the box in my arms and placed it in the back seat of one of the cars. Jerry, Tim and Peter put all of the other bags back into the dumpster, arranging them to look as though nothing had been disturbed. As we pulled out of the alley the rats again darted in front of our headlights.
I watched one scamper across the top of a dumpster as our car made its way down the wet and slimy path and out into the street.
We drove to Joe Scheidler’s garage to examine the contents of the box, first setting it on a table beneath a bright light. We all gathered around the table as Peter carefully peeled off the silver duct tape and opened the flaps of the box. Inside were small plastic “specimen” bags. Each bag contained the remains of an aborted baby with placenta and uterine tissue. We took the bags out and laid them on the table. There were forty-three of them in all which represented about three or four days worth of abortions at the Michigan Avenue Medical Center.
Several bags were marked with the name of the aborted baby’s mother, her age, the gestational age of the fetal child, the date of the abortion and a number. We thought the number represented the number of abortions performed at the center since January 1, 1987. On this Saturday night, March 14, 1987, the number was in the three thousands. The pathologist in our company, who had many years of experience in handling the bodies of aborted as well as miscarried fetal children, said that most of the forty-three were between six and fourteen weeks of gestation. Despite the small size of the fetal remains, their tiny arms, legs, hands, feet, rib cages, spinal columns, eyes (floating free out of their sockets) bits of skull tissue and sometimes even an intact face were plainly visible through the plastic windows of the specimen bags, looming up through their murky liquid world of formalin and blood like the inky prophecies of a Magic 8 Ball.
At the very bottom of the box lay a plastic bag that was different from the others. It was a clear plastic bag, much larger and heavier than the others. I took the oblong-shaped bag into my hands to examine it. It was stuffed full with a material I could not recognize. I turned the bag over and over in my hands, but I had no idea what my eyes gazed upon. I began to grow fearful and apprehensive about this mysterious parcel. At last my eyes made sense of a shape pressed against the plastic–a shape familiar to me yet completely unfamiliar. I saw an arm–a very large arm. Then I saw another arm and then a foot, a full inch in length.
I had looked at those arms all these many seconds but I did not see them as arms because I had no prior mental category by which my brain could recognize them. They were dismembered arms of a completely torn and mutilated body and, up until that day, my eye had never seen such a reality through which this eviscerated corpse could speak to me. It was as if an alien stranger spoke a word to me I did not at first understand until finally, after much straining to listen to the foreign tongue, I at last comprehended his message. But actually, in this case, I did not even know a language was being spoken–the silent language of this child who spoke to me the shocking word of his broken body–a language legal abortion meant to silence at the bottom of a trash container.
We took the remains out of the bag, separated the limbs that had become enmeshed in the placenta and assembled the body parts. The child, a boy, was at least six months gestational age, perhaps even older. He had been killed by the D and E (dilation and evacuation) abortion method. His body was well formed and muscular. His red and purple veins could be seen through his translucent skin. Regaldo S. Florendo, the clinic’s owner and abortionist, saw every body part as he literally tore the fetal child limb from limb and removed the parts from the womb. The clinic seemed to want to hide this child as he lay on the very bottom of the box buried beneath others who shared a similar fate. And, unlike his unwanted brothers and sisters, not a single piece of identifying information was scribbled on his plastic burial shroud. Not only was his life wiped out, but the clinic seemed intent upon wiping out his identity as well–as if, unlike the others, this one never had, a name, a mother, an age, a date of death–an existence. It is possible that Florendo felt he had blundered somehow in the performance of this abortion upon a late-term baby and in panic needed to cover it up. Perhaps he made a mistake in calculating the unborn child’s age, started the abortion, and once begun, believed he had no choice but to see, what was certainly for him, the more than usual grisly deed completed.
Andy Scholberg took photos of this fetal child. Joe Scheidler stared at the hideous corpse for a moment. He then turned around and went into his house. He said he could not look at him any more.
This was not the first night we had retrieved the bodies of aborted children from the garbage dumpster behind the Michigan Avenue Medical Center and it would not be the last. The retrieval efforts began on February 28, 1987 and lasted until April 25. In those two months we recovered about five hundred bodies. We probably missed some of the now familiar silver duct taped boxes. Tim Murphy sometimes went to the alley twice a week and came out with a box taken from the trash.
I became involved in the retrievals after receiving a call from Jerry McCarthy, who had gone on the first retrieval mission. Joe Scheidler found out about the trash dumpster babies in a most unexpected way. A man who did the advertising layouts for the abortion clinic, such as the one that appeared in the Chicago Yellow Pages, had a falling-out with the clinic management. He knew the clinic disposed of the fetal remains in the dumpster behind the building. To get back at the management, the disgruntled employee first contacted Tom Bressler, who operated a crisis pregnancy center three doors north of the abortion clinic. The clinic’s advertising man thought pro-lifers might wish to retrieve the fetal remains and do some advertising of their own–advertising that would bring negative publicity to the clinic. Tom Bressler called Joe and told him where he could find the bodies.
Week after week, I trekked from Milwaukee to the alley off Monroe Street in the dead of night to find the bodies of aborted babies. My good friend Edmund and I often went together. He and I spent hours painstakingly photographing the broken bodies with our makeshift photography studio set up either in his small apartment or mine. The powerful closeup lenses we learned to use revealed the beauty and poignancy of these fetal humans that no amount of crushing or dismemberment could entirely erase. My eyes could still behold the glory of the human being even in their crushed bodies, a glory traced within them by the creative hand of God. All of those involved with the retrieval believed it was utterly imperative that a photographic record of the aborted babies be made. We literally had in our hands the victims of a holocaust. Millions of preborn human beings had perished already since 1973, and the vast majority would never be seen. We meant for our photos to be a testimony to the humanity of the unborn killed by legalized abortion. We hoped that if we showed the photos to the public or to women headed toward the door of an abortion center, these children might save others. The photographs also were important because they proved that these children actually did live, however briefly, and were killed by a horrendous violence that literally trampled their humanity. The photos documented the brutality they had endured.
Finding the babies in the trash was like coming upon a secret. Most Americans know abortions are legal and that they occur. But for the vast majority, the fetus is a non-entity, something not real. As long as the victims are hidden, abortion remains separate from actual killing. Our photos are meant to shake people into the reality of abortion.
I was now living an unusual life, digging through trash dumpsters on a Chicago loading dock and picking the bodies of human beings out of the trash. I kept boxes of aborted children in my closet draped with a rosary. My mind was now forever etched with the memory of hundreds of torn, crushed, broken bodies–with blood, intestines, and torn skin. I came to know some of those bodies very well since I spent so much time trying to get the photographs just right. I named some of the children. David was the largest whom Andy had photographed in Joe’s garage. I had a five-month-old who, from skin tones and facial features, appeared to be black. He or she was killed by the dilation and evacuation method. Unlike most of the fetal children, the face of this baby was almost entirely intact. The baby’s lower jaw was missing; but except for one eyeball missing from the socket, this was a most beautiful, well-formed face. The eye was missing as the result of the force of the skull being crushed, something the abortionist had to do to remove the head from the womb. The back of the fetal baby’s head was totally caved in. I called this one “Baby Face.”
Perhaps more than the sight of the bodies, the smell of formalin remained in my memory. The aborted babies were packed in a twenty percent formalin solution. The odor was sharp and penetrating; it made my eyes water and irritated my nostrils. Because I often exposed myself to the bodies to photograph them, after a time the inside of my nostrils and sinuses became dry and burnt.
Tim Murphy, Peter Krump, Edmund and I would rendezvous at nine or ten o’clock on a Saturday night at Blackie’s, a bar on the south end of the Loop–a bar popular with young singles. Sometimes earlier in the week Tim would have gone by himself to the Michigan Avenue Medical Center trash dumpster and retrieved a box of babies. One night Edmund, Peter and I sat at a table at Blackies waiting for Tim to arrive. When he did, he walked into the bar carrying a large paper bag concealing the smallish, duct-taped cardboard box that contained the bodies of aborted babies.
He had found the box in the dumpster on Wednesday and brought it to the bar to give it to Edmund and me to photograph the remains.
At first we were humored by Tim’s brazenness. But then, to say the least, we all felt ill at ease with the box sitting on the table in the hip singles bar. I was also struck by something else. Young, attractive men and women professionals drank beer and Screwdrivers, played pin ball, watched sports programs, talked and laughed while in their very midst lay the hidden remains of aborted children. The tragedy of what the box contained clashed so completely with the noisy, rock music-filled, worldly gaiety of this place. The box of aborted babies thrust into the swanky bar was a kind of silent indictment of the sort of world the bar represented–the world so completely oblivious to the rejection of the aborted child
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