The state of Indiana, where Klopfer was a longtime abortion provider, launched an investigation, and activists on both sides of the abortion debate seized on the story. Vice President and former Indiana governor Mike Pence said it should “shock the conscience of every American.” Democratic presidential candidate and former South Bend, Ind., 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.”
On Wednesday, five months later, the Indiana attorney general embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal has presided over a mass burial for fetuses found on Klopfer’s properties.
The remains were placed in the same grave at Southlawn Cemetery in South Bend, a northern Indiana city Klopfer predominantly served alongside Gary and Fort Wayne. State officials told the Associated Press that Palmer Funeral Home donated the burial plot.
“Today, we finally memorialize the 2,411 unborn babies whose remains were senselessly hoarded by Dr. Ulrich Klopfer after he performed the abortions from 2000 to 2003,” Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said at the gravesite. “These babies deserved better than a cold, dark garage or the trunk of a car."
Hill said that “each of these 2,411 was a life — a life that was terminated — and each deserves to be secure in a final resting place, with dignity and respect, as should be afforded all human beings. May each of the 2,411 buried here, now and forever, rest in peace.”
After the ceremony, Attorney General Curtis Hill will gave 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, Ill., the AP reported.
“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 northeast 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 U.S. Supreme Court.
Detectives have said they believe the fetal 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, 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, reported the Tribune.
“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 antiabortion activists had teamed up to shut him down as part of a broader effort to limit abortion access throughout the state, the AP reported.
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 percent of Indiana counties in 2017.
Klopfer’s clinics were all closed by 2015, reported the Tribune.
After Klopfer died last year, his family found the fetal remains and contacted authorities. More than 50 detectives searched Klopfer’s home, according to Mike Kelley, the sheriff of Will County in Illinois.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of boxes that we had to go through to make sure there were no more of these remains in that residence,” Kelley said last year. “I can tell you that in the 31 years that I’ve been doing this job, I’ve never seen anything like this, ever.”
The fetal remains were stored among other items belonging to Klopfer in his garage, Kelley said.
“Just imagine your garage and you walk and you’re storing whatever — car parts, bottles of motor oil,” he said. “That’s what the garage looked like ceiling to floor.”
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.
“It’s one thing to have a law that requires medical facilities to bury or cremate fetuses, it’s another thing to make sure they do it,” Hill told the Star. “So there may be some regulations that are put in place to ensure that there is adequate record-keeping and processing and confirmation that these fetuses aren’t discarded like so much trash.”
Hill’s appearance at the burial ceremony came 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 AP reported.