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Justices Refuse to Take Fetus-Burial Case from California

March 18, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today refused to become embroiled in efforts to conduct a mass burial and religious service for 16,500 fetuses in Los Angeles County, Calif.

The justices, without comment, let stand California court rulings that such a burial service would violate the separation of church and state mandated by the California Constitution.

County District Attorney Robert Philibosian had contended in his appeal to the high court that he has the legal discretion to decide whether to bury or incinerate the fetuses. He said his decision to bury them should not be rendered unlawful because of a private’s group plan to hold a memorial service.

Justice William H. Rehnquist last Oct. 11 rejected an emergency request by the Catholic League of Southern California aimed at allowing the religious burial ceremony.

He noted that nothing in the state court rulings prevented the Catholic League from ″holding a religious or other memorial service″ or from conducting an anti-abortion rally.

The state court rulings only barred the organization from acquiring the fetuses, he said.

The controversy began in early 1982 when the fetuses were found outside the home of a former medical laboratory director in Woodland Hills, a Los Angeles suburb.

Abortion opponents, including a majority of the board of county supervisors, sought a memorial service for the fetuses. President Reagan wrote to one anti-abortion group in May 1982 to praise its plan ″to hold a memorial service for these children.″

Philbosian’s attempt to turn the fetuses over to an anti-abortion group was blocked by a court order after the Feminist Women’s Health Center challenged the move. A state court ruled that he could not surrender the fetuses to any private group except for incineration.

Under state law, the aborted fetuses are to be buried or incinerated.

Philbosian then got a judge’s permission to bury the fetuses in a private cemetery where the Catholic League planned to hold a religious service. That plan was blocked by a state appeals court last June 29 on the same establishment-of-religion grounds.

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