Texas state health officials will begin requiring health care providers to cremate or bury the remains of all aborted fetuses by next month, potentially starting a legal battle between pro-choice advocates and opponents on how far the state should be involved in the procedure.
The new measure, set for Dec. 19, requires hospitals and abortion clinics to arrange for burial or cremation of remains, no matter what age. Remains from miscarriages or from home abortions are exempted, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Blake Rocap, attorney for abortion rights advocate NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, says,
This is another in a long line of medically unnecessary, with no scientific merit, restrictions put on physicians and facilities that provide abortion care.
He adds, “It’s a completely political overlay of a cultural practice that not everyone adheres to onto what should be scientifically appropriate licensing rules.”
A few states across the country have successfully put similar rules in place. Indiana is the latest to require the cremation or burial of fetal remains, though a federal judge has blocked the state law with an injection, on the basis that it has “no legal basis to treat fetal remains with ‘the same’ dignity as human remains.”
Arkansas and Georgia have the same laws, and lawmakers in Ohio, Mississippi and South Carolina are considering similar proposals.
Pro-life proponents have applauded the move as providing “dignity” and “respect” the unborn, while critics have blasted the rule as medically unnecessary, meant to make abortion unaffordable and to shame women into getting them. Abortion is constitutionally protected, and under existing rules, fetal remains are treated the same way as human tissue and are disposed of in sanitary landfills.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has threatened to file a lawsuit against the state, saying that “the proposed amendments will almost certainly trigger costly litigation for Texas.” David Brown, a senior legal counsel at the organization, says, “These new restrictions reveal the callous indifference that Texas politicians have toward women. Forcing a woman to pay for a burial after she ends a pregnancy or experiences a miscarriage is not just absurd, it is an unnecessary burden and an intrusion on her personal beliefs.”
State officials unobtrusively published the change on July 1, days after a US Supreme Court ruling deemed two major points of the Texas 2013 abortion law unconstitutional: that abortion facilities must adhere to strict standards similar to surgical centers, and that health care providers performing abortions must gain admitting privileges at hospitals.
Governor Greg Abbott takes credit for the change, saying that he had been working with HHSC for months on the proposal and sending an email boasting about the rule weeks after the policy was announced.