Relatives made a strange discovery last year after prominent Midwest abortion provider Ulrich Klopfer died at the age of 79.
Inside the man's Chicago-area garage were 71 boxes filled with 2246 foetuses that had not been properly disposed. Another 165 foetuses were later found in the trunk of one of Klopfer's vehicles.
Indiana, where Klopfer was a longtime abortion provider, launched an investigation, and activists on both sides of the abortion debate seized on the story. US Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor, said it should "shock the conscience of every American." Democratic presidential candidate and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg called the discovery "extremely disturbing" and said he hoped the case "doesn't get caught up in politics at a time when women need access to health care."
Now, five months later, the Indiana attorney general embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal will preside over a mass burial for foetuses found on Klopfer's properties.
The remains were scheduled to be placed in the same grave in South Bend on Wednesday afternoon. Klopfer predominantly served that city, Gary and Fort Wayne.
After the ceremony, Attorney General Curtis Hill will give an update on the investigation into why Klopfer collected the remains and whether anyone helped him transport them from the Indiana facilities where he performed abortion procedures to his home across the state line in Crete, Illinois, reported the Associated Press.
"I'm so grateful that, finally, the bodies of these little boys and girls will be treated with the dignity they deserved," Cathie Humbarger, who heads Right to Life in northeastern Indiana, told the AP.
Indiana enforces some of the nation's strictest abortion laws, including a statute signed into law by Pence in 2016 that mandates the burial or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion. That law was challenged in court but ultimately upheld by the US Supreme Court.
Detectives have said they believe the foetal remains in Klopfer's home and vehicle were from abortion procedures that took place in the early 2000s, long before Indiana's burial bill became law. The doctor faced intense resistance throughout his career from antiabortion activists in Indiana, who protested outside his clinics weekly.
Klopfer was considered Indiana's "most prolific" abortion provider, performing tens of thousands of procedures in his four decades as a physician, the South Bend Tribune reported. His medical license was suspended in 2016 after he was accused of failing to exercise reasonable care and for violating notice and documentation requirements, the Tribune reported.
"Women get pregnant, men don't. We need to respect women making a decision that they think is best in their life," Klopfer said during hearing proceedings. "I'm not here to dictate to anybody. I'm not here to judge anybody."
The doctor complained that conservative state officials and anti-abortion activists had teamed up to shut him down as part of a broader effort to limit abortion access throughout the state, reported the Associated Press.
Klopfer's clinics were all closed by 2015, reported the Tribune.
As of 2017, there were nine facilities providing abortions in Indiana, a decline from 11 in 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute. There were no abortion providers in 96 per cent of Indiana counties in 2017.
After Klopfer died last year, his family found the foetal remains and contacted authorities. More than 50 detectives searched Klopfer's home, according to Mike Kelley, the sheriff of Will County in Illinois.
The foetal remains were stored among other items belonging to Klopfer in his garage, Kelley said.
Hill, the Indiana attorney general, considers himself "unabashedly pro-life" and has said that the investigation could result in greater regulations over abortion providers in the state, reported the Indianapolis Star.
Hill's appearance at the burial ceremony comes as the Republican is facing a reelection campaign. His ability to practice law also hangs in the balance. He was accused of groping a female state legislator and three other women at an Indianapolis bar in 2018, prompting the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission to recommend Hill's law license be suspended for at least two years.
The hearing officer in Hill's case will make her own disciplinary recommendation to the Indiana Supreme Court, which will then make a final ruling on Hill's fate, the Associated Press reported.