Texas became the latest state Monday to implement a controversial new rule requiring fetal remains be buried or cremated, rather than disposed of as medical waste, which reproductive rights advocates say imposes an unnecessary restriction and cost on abortion providers.
The measure is set to go into effect December 19 and requires all hospitals, medical facilities, and abortion providers to dispose of fetal remains through cremation or burial, rather than in a sanitary landfill, regardless of the length of the gestation period, reported the Texas Tribune.
Texas’s Health and Human Services Commission proposed the new rules in the Texas Register in July, four days after the Supreme Court struck down a series of Texas regulations on abortion providers. After receiving more than 35,000 public comments, triggering two hearings and stirring up months of heated debate, the final version of the rule was approved Monday, bypassing the state legislature.
Under the measure, abortion providers, not patients, would be responsible for the cost of disposing of a fetus. The burial requirement does not include miscarriages or abortions that happen at home, the Texas Health Commission specified.
The new requirements are part of a national trend of new abortion regulations popping up in other Republican-controlled state houses. Earlier this year, former Indiana governor, now Vice President-elect, Mike Pence signed into law a package abortion regulations including the requirement that fetal remains be disposed by cremation or burial. In June, Louisiana’s governor John Bel Edwards signed a similar measure that would “require burial or cremation of remains resulting from abortion.”
Gov. Abbott said in a fundraising email in July that the Texas rule reflects a respect for human life and that fetal remains shouldn’t be “treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills.” The state health commission also said the law would result in the “enhanced protection of the health and safety of the public,” according to the Texas Tribune.
But reproductive rights advocates argue that these measures only serve to further restrict abortion access and do nothing to protect the health of the patient.
“This rule provides no public health benefit, just like the state’s abortion restrictions that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in June,” Blake Rocap, legislative counsel at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement in response to the Texas measure. “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.”
Both Louisiana and Indiana’s laws were immediately challenged in court and prevented from going into effect. The measure in Texas is likely to face a similar fate, especially after a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that required any regulations placed on abortion providers be proven as medically beneficial. The Center for Reproductive Rights, a plaintiff in the Supreme Court ruling, sent a letter to Texas state health officials in August saying the proposed rules violates the “undue burden” standard set in the previous case.
But this could all be overturned under the incoming Trump administration. Both President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Pence have said that they will overturn Roe v. Wade — the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision enshrining the legal right to abortion — once in office.
“I’m pro-life and I don’t apologize for it,” Pence said during a town-hall meeting this summer. “We’ll see Roe vs. Wade consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.”
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