How a landfill figures into NH’s March for Life

Once a year at 9 a.m. on a January Saturday, people gather at the gate outside Concord, New Hampshire’s transfer station and landfill. They pray and hold signs, regardless of bitter weather. They park their cars along the roadside, since no one builds parking lots at landfills to accommodate demonstrations. It seems an odd place for a gathering, especially since there’s a March for Life later in the day a mile or so away, in far more conventional surroundings. Why pray at a landfill?

Because it’s a burial ground. The remains of between fifty and eighty aborted children were discovered there in 1988. It didn’t take long to identify the abortion provider. He was scolded for improperly disposing of medical waste, and he promised to do the job right (incineration?) in the future.  Twenty-seven years later, the dump is now the transfer station, and human remains are still in the former landfill. Annually since 1989, January visitors have gathered to honor the memory of the children.

From NHRTL’s Winter 1989 newsletter

My files yielded up an old New Hampshire Right to Life newsletter, with this account of the aftermath of the discovery of the babies’ remains. I’ve taken the liberty of correcting a couple of typos in the original text.

Babies’ bodies found in Concord landfill: The grisly discovery of the bodies of aborted babies in the Concord Landfill remains a focal point of Pro-life interest this January. Although the news was widely published in Concord, it received only brief mention across the state.

The bodies were discovered by dump workers in trash bags containing medical waste and contaminated material (sic). Further investigation has disclosed that the bodies were traced to the Concord Obstetrics and Gynecology Professional Assoc. It is possible that such “waste material” has been dumped at the landfill illegally for upwards of five years.

New Hampshire Right to Life, along with other concerned individuals and organizations, has been trying to recover the bodies for decent burial. Bishop [Odore] Gendron, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Hampshire, has offered to bury the bodies which may be recovered, in land donated by Mount Calvary Cemetery. [Permission for removal of the remains was denied.]

Gov. John Sununu has expressed shock and anger at the find. NH Right to Life has written to ask the Governor’s help in retrieving the most recently discovered bodies, and to seek his influence in passing legislation resubmitted to provide for the proper and dignified disposal of human remains, including fetal remains. This bill is similar to one passed by the [N.H.] Senate in 1986, and killed in the House. Testimony at that time suggested that there was no need for such legislation as no problems existed.

Chairman Marie Taylor of RTL has received cooperation from the Governor and the Attorney General in her attempt to find out as much as possible about this regrettable situation. 

Efforts to have a memorial service at the landfill on Jan. 21 were slowed recently as a permit was refused for inside the dump [property]. Marie Taylor was told that any gathering inside the dump could slow down traffic in and out. NH Right to Life was later granted a permit to allow various religious groups to gather outside the landfill in brief prayer for those babies buried there.

The first gathering: a U.S. Senator makes the trip

Sen. Gordon Humphrey at Concord landfill, January 1989. (Concord Monitor photo)
Sen. Gordon Humphrey at Concord landfill, January 1989. (Concord Monitor photo)

I was at the first memorial service in 1989, as one of the speakers. I hope I was brief; I don’t remember what I said, but I sure remember a biting wind. The featured speaker – and the only reason reporters came to see what was going on – was New Hampshire’s U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey. (The photo here is a scan of a clipping from the Concord Monitor’s coverage of the event.) He was blunt and refreshing, as was his custom. He wrapped up with a poem he had composed the evening before. I recall the faces of a few bemused reporters who obviously hadn’t expected a literary premiere. The last few lines:

Here lie the remains of helpless infants destroyed, 

Midst filth and rotting trash.

And here lies mercy, and here lies decency,

And here lies virtue, and here lies justice.

With the children, murdered and deeply mourned.

It still happens: news from Rhode Island

Here’s a statement issued this week:

In light of the recent discovery of a fetus in a local sewage facility, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence has reached out to the East Providence police and offered to provide a proper burial in one of their Catholic cemeteries.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said, “The fetus that was discovered is a child of God. That it was found in a sewage treatment plant is profoundly disturbing. This baby deserves a decent and dignified burial which the Church is anxious to provide.”

“We also pray for the spiritual and personal well-being of this child’s mother,” Bishop added.

[Update, June 2015: “Unclaimed RI baby finally laid to rest“]

The witness continues

At 9 a.m. this coming Saturday, a small group will gather for prayer outside the gate of the Concord transfer station, just as people have gathered every year since 1989.  Concord neighbors arriving to drop off their trash will wonder what’s going on, and the people who have come to pray will be happy to tell them. There probably won’t be any U.S. Senators on site, and the press coverage will probably be a bit thin.

But still, once upon a time, human remains were dumped there as trash. This bears remembering.