Fate of fetus seized from protesters highlights issues of abortion debate

BUFFALO, N.Y. — BUFFALO, N.Y. -- They call her Tia. She is 9 1/2 inches long, weighs 14 ounces and was named by the Operation Rescue leaders who use her to symbolize the human lives lost to abortion.

But since police confiscated the fetus at an anti-abortion demonstration here Tuesday, Tia has come to symbolize the very question at the heart of the emotional abortion battle.


Is Tia a baby or a fetus? A human being or fetal tissue?

Or, on a practical basis for medical and legal officials, is Tia to be given a proper burial or disposed of as medical waste?


"It's not entirely clear what it is yet," said Shelley B. Mayer, an assistant New York attorney general who is investigating whether anti-abortion activists broke any laws by using Tia as a prop.

4 Much of Tia's origins are surrounded in mystery.

Operation Rescue leaders, who have displayed the fetus previously and keep it preserved in a container of formaldehyde, said they obtained Tia from a Buffalo pathologist whom they would not name.

The Rev. Robert L. Schenck, who was charged with disorderly conduct for holding the fetus in front of abortion-rights activists, said at a news conference Monday that Tia was 23 weeks gestational age -- a second-trimester fetus, although he did not use that word.

"She's a baby," he said. "Fetus is a little dehumanizing."

Operation Rescue leaders handed the fetus among one another at the news conference Monday and posed for photographers with the Tia cradled in their palms,

They said they had been unable to get Tia buried because they did not have a death certificate.

When Tia was taken from Father Schenck the next day, he called to police: "All that we ask is that she not be destroyed because we have been given custody of her for burial."


Tia's fate is in the hands of the Erie County coroner.

The post-mortem determined the gestational age of the fetus was 20 weeks, about a month shy of being a "viable" fetus, or one that can live outside the mother.

But the age put it right at the legal edge of what New York law defines as the beginning of human life, at least in terms of how the remains should be dealt with.

"If the fetus has reached 20 weeks, then it has to be buried or cremated," said Therese Wincott, a spokeswoman for the Erie County district attorney.

If the fetus is less developed, then it is dealt with as medical waste.

The difference is important to prosecutors, who must decide whether to charge Father Schenck with violating health laws dealing with proper burials or environmental laws dealing with the proper disposal of waste.