Texas to Require Burial or Cremation of Fetal Remains

Texas to Require Burial or Cremation of Fetal Remains

The Republican obsession with abortion is just another attempt to hold women back

Despite months of stiff opposition from abortion rights groups and the medical community, Texas has finalized a draconian ruling that specifies fetal remains must be cremated or buried in lieu of being disposed of in sanitary landfills, The Washington Post reports.

In what is surely another invasion of women’s rights to have autonomy over their own bodies, health officials plan to implement the rules, which prohibit hospitals, abortion clinics and other health care facilities from disposing of fetal remains — no matter how long — or short— the gestation period is. They are set to take effect Dec. 19, state officials told the Texas Tribune. 

Ohio, South Carolina and Mississippi have implemented fetal burial laws, and Planned Parenthood is suing Indiana over the state’s proposed law, Jezebel reports. 

Texas did things a bit differently, by going through the Texas Department of State Health Services, in an attempt to sneak the legislation in quietly. Jezebel reports that proposed rule changes are published in the Texas Register, then the public has 30 days to comment before they take effect. And these rules generally do go into effect, especially if they are anti-abortion rules.

At a tightly-packed hearing in August, medical professionals, funeral directors and reproductive rights activists voiced their concerns, telling the state this decision is a bad idea that creates new costs for patients and doctors alike. The emotion-fueled hearing featured a statement from pro-life, pro “faith, family and freedom” organization Texas Values, KVUE reports. They justified the new rules by claiming, with typical Republican hyperbole, that aborted fetuses are disposed of in the sewer system.

In a statement, David Walls, the Director of Operations at Texas Values said in his statement:

“The rules will ensure that the bodies of aborted babies are treated with the respect they deserve and are no longer callously treated like medical waste and disposed of by grinding and discharging into a sanitary sewer system.”

But Jezebel reports that abortion providers contract with medical-waste companies, like any other medical facility, to ensure fetal tissue is safely and sanitarily disposed of.

Funeral providers who testified at the hearing noted that a basic funeral costs $2,000, and that it isn’t clear who would be saddled with these costs.

Health Department spokeswoman Carrie Williams nixed the idea that this will be costly, the Post reports.

“What we found through our research is that the proposed rules won’t increase total costs for healthcare facilities,” she said, via email to The Dallas Morning News. “While the methods described in the new rules may have a cost, that cost is expected to be offset by costs currently being spent by facilities on disposition for transportation, storage, incineration, steam disinfection and/or landfill disposal.”

In most cases, abortion providers use third-party waste services that dispose fetal remains. Earlier rules allowed these remains, along with other medical tissues to be ground up, discharged into a sewer system, incinerated, or used alternative means prior to being disposed of in a landfill.

Responding to criticism from medical providers, the state’s Health and Human Services Commission said the requirement doesn’t apply to miscarriages or abortions that happen in the home. To maintain patient confidentiality, it does not require birth or death certificates to be filed.

Following months of public comment, hearings and a deluge of more than 35,000 comments submitted to health officials since the rules were proposed in July, Republican Gov. Gregg Abbott quietly approved the proposal, maintaining that fetal remains should not be “treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills,” The Texas Tribune reported.

And the state’s health commission says these rules will provide “enhanced protection of the health and safety of the public.” But pro-choice activists say the rules aren’t necessary and will make it harder for a woman to get a legal and safe abortion in the state.

“The rules target physicians that provide abortions and the hospitals that care for patients,” said Blake Rocap, who’s the legislative counsel for the advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, reports The Dallas Morning News. “It’s so transparent that what they’re really trying to do is denying access to abortion.”

NARAL members rallied outside the Department of State Health Services late last month, delivering more than 5,500 signatures from individuals in opposition to the proposal.

David Brown, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights characterized the rule Monday as “an unnecessary burden and an intrusion” on a woman’s own beliefs.

“These new restrictions reveal the callous indifference that Texas politicians have toward women,” he said.

Stephanie Toti, senior counsel for the center noted in a statement:

“Texas politicians are at it again, inserting their personal beliefs into the health care decisions of Texas women.”

And of course, numerous Republican legislators in Texas are hot for this proposed rule.

“For far too long, Texas has allowed the most innocent among us to be thrown out with the daily waste,” said state Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) in August during a tightly-packed public hearing on the proposed rule, The Austin American-Statesman reported. “Life begins at conception.”

But women who attended the August hearing and gave testimonials had mixed feelings about this. One woman said burying a fetus after a miscarriage gave her a feeling of closure. Another woman said she had an abortion after being raped, and had she been forced to bury the fetus it would have “essentially been the state of Texas rubbing my face in my own rape.”

Related: John Oliver Uncovers The Absurdity Of Texas’ Restrictive Abortion Laws (VIDEO)

The Center for Reproductive Rights and other organizations plan to fight the new rules in court. Since these rules fall under the rule-making authority of the state health department, they don’t need legislative approval. Even so, Republican lawmakers have wasted little time filing the legislation to write the rules into statutory law once the legislature reconvenes in January.

Anti-abortionists support the measure and responded to the questions by simply shrugging them off and saying perhaps abortion providers should pay additional costs. How very charitable of them. Of course, no one would ever think to have the pro-lifers pay, when they are the ones trying to stop women from having abortions.

Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, suggested at the hearing that perhaps abortion providers should absorb any “nominal increase” in costs associated with the cremation or burial rule — something that some funeral homes and cemeteries do in miscarriage cases, Jezebel reports.

If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that this is a thinly-veiled and sneaky attempt championed by Republican lawmakers at the behest of Abbott to circumvent abortion rights and to prevent women from making decisions about their own bodies. Targeting physicians, hospitals and abortion clinics by making it more difficult to dispose of fetal remains is pointless and will likely result in additional costs that may be passed on to those who can least afford it: Women who are being punished for these draconian rules.

The anti-abortion crowd is all caught up in worrying about a fetus in a mother’s womb, but once it becomes an actual newborn baby, they want nothing more to do with the mother or her baby. And frankly, this is what makes this crowd despicable.

Watch the short video below for more information about the hearing in August.

Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images

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Megan was born and raised in Ventura, California. She has since lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Pacific Northwest, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Mexico, and Costa Rica. While she has always been a liberal, her travels have informed her politics. She has worked for more than 25 years as a professional journalist writing about crime, the police, local politics, feature stories, environmental issues and a variety of other topics. She now writes for Reverb Press.

Megan supports Black Lives Matter and fights against racism, sexism, the corporatocracy, climate change deniers and others who continue to destroy the planet.