Lawmakers enforce fetal remains disposal law, hope Klopfer’s behavior won’t be repeated

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The Backstory

When the people of Indiana found out its most prolific abortion doctor had kept 2,246 fetal remains at his Illinois home garage in Sept. 2019, they were shocked and speechless. A month later, another 165 were found in his car, bringing the total to 2,411 fetal remains found. WANE 15’s series “Disturbing Discovery,” is an investigation to uncover the impact of Ulrich Klopfer and how to make sure something like this never happens again.

Klopfer, who died at the age of 79 on Sept. 3, got in a lot of public trouble while he was alive. The Indiana Medical Licensing Board and Indiana State Health Department took a slew of disciplinary action against him over his career, but had no idea about his fetal remains collection.

Now, they’re teaming up with lawmakers and Indiana’s attorney general to figure out how to improve abortion clinic oversight.

Klopfer’s medical license was suspended three years before his fetal remains collection was found in Sept. 2019.

One of Klopfer’s former patients from 1998, Rachel Kelly, desperately hopes these agencies come up with a solution.

“I do not want someone else to go through what I have gone through, to see their abortionist on T.V. 20 years later and wonder if one of those babies sitting in a cardboard box in a garage is theirs,” she said. “That is an ugly, ugly position to be in.”

She’s wondering how no one caught Klopfer in the act of taking the fetal remains from his clinics in Fort Wayne, South Bend, and Gary, Indiana to his home in Crete Illinois. His wife discovered them after he had died.

“How does that happen?” she asked. ” Who’s in charge of this? Who does the inspections? Who does the checks and balance system?”

The Investigation

Spearheading the Klopfer investigation is Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill.

“It was horrifying,” he said in a sit-down interview with WANE 15 in the Indiana Statehouse. “It was a very insensitive ending for such a sensitive subject. We knew that Dr. Klopfer was difficult to deal with during his lifetime in terms of following the rules, but the fact that he’s now as troubling in his death in terms of the legacy he’s left behind literally in his garage, it’s disturbing.”

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is spearheading the investigation of Ulrich Klopfer, who kept more than 2,000 fetal remains in his home and car.

As one of the state’s biggest forces of legal justice, Hill explained that would be nearly impossible to deliver for this case.

“Justice in the sense of somebody has to pay a price? That’s a little late for Dr. Klopfer.” he said. “He’s passed away. So there won’t be any repercussions for him for having transferred the remains across state lines or for any of his activities he may have done because we don’t have that opportunity.”

But the employees associated with Klopfer could possibly face consequences. Hill has to determine what their involvement with the fetus collection was first. He’ll also have to consider what laws were in place at the time when Klopfer took the fetal remains from his clinics in Indiana to his home in Illinois from 2000 to 2002.

“It’s a long time ago in terms of when these things took place and I don’t want anyone to have any unrealistic expectations of who’s going to be held accountable,” he said.

Hill said his office is carefully establishing a framework of all that happened and how. He also noted that even though Klopfer got away with keeping the fetal remains, he did not get away with failing to report abortions, not having proper staff for procedures, poor documentation, and providing unreasonable care to patients.

“Keep in mind, he did lose his medical license three years ago as a result of a litany of regulations that he had violated and laws he had violated,” Hill said. “So from that standpoint there was a comeuppance in that sense.”

The fetal remains are now back in Indiana in an undisclosed location where they’ll be buried after the investigation.

“Fetuses are human and regardless of how they got there, there should be a respect of how we dispose of human remains in any situation,” Hill continued. “So that’s the real takeaway here. No one should be, in my view, bothered looking to make sure that any human remains are provided the opportunity for a dignified burial.”

A Solution

Indiana had already taken its stance on what abortion providers can do with fetal remains. In 2016, state lawmakers passed House Enrolled Act 1337, which requires providers to bury or cremate the remains. Keeping them without intent of burial or throwing them out as medical waste became a level 5 felony with a penalty of one to six years in prison or a fine up to $10,000.

Because of a federal injunction due to other parts of the law, HEA 1337 wasn’t allowed to be enforced by the ISDH until the injunction was lifted on September 3, 2019.

HEA 1337 actually became enforceable the same day that Klopfer died. It was put into place for reasons unrelated to him, three years before his fetal collection was discovered. Indiana State Senator Liz Brown said learning about his secret collection only made ISDH more serious about carrying out the law once it became enforceable.

“I was so happy that the state department of health is all ready to hit the ground running implementing this law,” said Brown, who had just met with ISDH’s leadership about the implementation of HEA 1337. “They appreciate the gravity of this situation and particularly in light of finding over 2,000 babies remains in Dr. Klopfer the abortion doctor’s home and in his car. We know that we can assure everyone these babies going forward will be buried with dignity.”

Indiana State Senator Liz Brown pushing for House Enrolled Act 1337 in 2015. It passed in 2016.

Under HEA 1337, ISDH is making abortion providers account for every disposed fetus through a “burial transit permit.” Providers are required to fill out this permit for every set of fetuses they give to a funeral home or crematorium. This list of fetuses to be buried is proof that the transfer was made.

The funeral home or crematorium is then required to sign the permit.

The number of transferred fetuses on these permits will have to match the records of how many abortions the provider did at its clinic. Providers are required to fill out termination of pregnancy reports, or TPR’s, for every abortion done. ISDH will regularly check to make sure these numbers match up, that is, the number of fetuses on a burial transit permit and TPR’s.

For example, if an abortion provider is transferring a set of 15 fetal remains to a funeral home, the burial transit permit they take with them should have 15 fetal remains listed on it. The funeral home will sign the permit verifying they’ve received 15. There should also be 15 corresponding TPR’s back at the abortion provider’s clinic.

ISDH is also requiring providers have patients sign a “Disposition for Fetal Remains” form, which gives the patients their two fetal disposal rights.

“It will say very specifically, ‘I understand that the clinic will bury my baby’s remains in a dignified manner and/or I have the choice instead to choose where I would like those remains to go,” explained Brown.

ISDH’s enforcement of House Enrolled Act 1337 requires abortion providers to fill out Burial Transit Permits and Disposition for Fetal Remains forms, as accountability that they’re legally disposing of fetal remains.

The senator emphasized that it’s very important that HEA 1337 is never a burden on the women who undergo the abortion procedures. The abortion provider takes care of the remains completely.

None of Indiana’s abortion clinics responded to WANE 15’s request for an interview about fetal disposal. Multiple times by phone and email, we reached out to Whole Women’s Health in South Bend; Women’s Med in Indianapolis; Clinic for Women in Indianapolis; and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, which has abortion clinics in Indianapolis, Merrillville, Bloomington, and Lafayette.

Brown trusts ISDH has made it clear to all these clinics the expectations going forward according to HEA 1337. She believes there will be no more “Klopfer’s” who take home fetal remains.

“[We’re making] sure absolutely that people like him can never exist and practice in Indiana,” she said. “The department of health has crossed t’s and dotted i’s. They’ve got all the forms in place. They’ve reached out to the health care providers. They notified the abortion clinics. They’ve talked to funeral homes. So I am very confident if something slips through the cracks, which I don’t anticipate it happening, I know my fellow legislators will report to the department of health right away and I am ensured that they will act on that.”

HEA 1337 also makes it illegal to transfer fetal remains out of the state without the sole purpose of final disposition through burial or cremation. Breaking this part of the law is a misdemeanor with a penalty of upwards of one year in prison or up to a $5,000 fine.

Going National

Both of Indiana’s U.S. senators, Todd Young and Mike Braun, and a couple of its U.S. representatives, Jackie Walorski and Jim Banks, want to take the state’s fetal disposal laws to the national level.

Indiana’s U.S. senators Todd Young and Mike Braun have introduced the Dignity for Aborted Children Act to the U.S. Senate.

They’ve introduced the Dignity for Aborted Children Act to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives with S.2950 and H.R. 4934, respectively. They believe this is a solution to making sure something like Klopfers fetal remains collection never happens again anywhere the United States.

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