On Monday, Texas health commission officials filed new rules mandating that fetal remains following an abortion or miscarriage be buried or cremated, instead of being disposed in sanitary landfills. The new rules take effect on Dec.19, reports the Texas Tribune.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott approved the regulations, writing in a fundraising email that he doesn’t believe fetal remains should be “treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills,” the paper reported.
The news has been met by strong opposition from the medical community and advocates of reproductive rights.
Wendy Davis, the former Texas state senator and former gubernatorial candidate whose 13-hour filibuster of the Texas abortion bill garnered national attention in 2013, told ATTN: via email:
"Once again, Governor Abbott and his political appointees are demonstrating a greater interest in scoring cheap political points than they are in governing in the best interests of the state. This rule will no doubt create an undue burden on women seeking abortion in our state, yet another thinly veiled attempt to assert a 'legitimate state interest' when the real objective is closing off access to constitutionally protected abortion care."
Medical providers expressed concern over who would be responsible for funding the burial or cremation, which can cost several thousand dollars. As the Tribune reported:
"In response to those concerns, health officials indicated that health care facilities — and not patients — will be responsible for the disposal of fetal remains and that related costs would be 'offset by the elimination of some current methods of disposition.' Officials also wrote that the rules 'carry out the department's duty to protect public health in a manner that's consonant with the state's respect for life and dignity of the unborn.'"
In response to this development, Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, released the following statement:
“The state agency has once again ignored the concerns of the medical community and thousands of Texans by playing politics with people’s private healthcare decisions. DSHS has failed to show any evidence this rule benefits public health or improves the safe practice of modern medicine. This rule is a thinly-veiled attempt to shame Texans who have abortions and make it harder for the doctors who provide them.
"Hospitals and clinics already follow the state’s standards for safe disposal of medical tissue. The addition of non-medical ritual to current clinical practice only serves to further interfere with a patient’s autonomy and decision making in their own medical care. Instead of passing laws that further complicate a patient’s experience and force them to consider burial services, we should focus on making sure that patients are supported, respected, and empowered in their decision.”
Forcing providers to pay for cremations and burials could ultimately push more of them out of business. And Texas is not alone in pushing for this type of rule. Earlier this year, Vice President-elect and former Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a law with a similar provision. However, a federal judge blocked it from taking effect.
Reporting on the wave of “state-mandated mourning for aborted fetuses," The Atlantic wrote:
In March, South Dakota made it illegal to use aborted fetal tissue in research, and in April, Idaho and Alabama made it illegal to buy, sell, donate, or experiment on these remains. Tennessee made it illegal for sale. The legislatures of Ohio, South Carolina, and Mississippi have all recently considered burial and cremation requirements, and Arkansas and Georgia already have similar statutes in place. Like many of these other states, Indiana’s law effectively prohibits women or health-care facilities from donating fetal tissue for medical research.
ATTN: reached out to Gov. Abbott's office and will update this story once they respond.