Abortion providers in Texas will be legally required to bury or cremate fetal remains

Abortion providers in Texas will be legally required to bury or cremate fetal remains
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

On Monday, Texas' Health and Human Services Commission officials ruled that aborted fetuses can no longer be disposed of in sanitary landfills, but instead must be properly buried or cremated starting Dec. 19. 

The then-proposed policy was the centerpiece of Gov. Greg Abbott's fundraising efforts in July, when, in an email to his supporters reported on by the Texas Tribune, he wrote, "I believe it is imperative to establish higher standards that reflect our respect for the sanctity of life." He added, " ... I don't believe human and fetal remains should be treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills." 

According to a Monday report from the Tribune, health officials have clarified that the regulations will not apply to miscarried fetuses or the fetal remains resulting from at-home abortions. Additionally, abortions providers will be the ones responsible for the proper disposal of the fetal remains — not the woman who has received the abortion. 

Reproductive rights activists rallied in Washington D.C. in June awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on abortion restrictions in Texas.
Source: 
MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

While the latter stipulation certainly mitigates any emotional or financial burdens that would otherwise fall to women seeking abortions, the new requirement isn't without its consequences.

"This rule is a thinly-veiled attempt to shame Texans who have abortions and make it harder for the doctors who provide them," Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement provided to Mic

Busby explained that abortion providers had already been following state standards for disposal of medical tissue. Monday's decision, then, is first and foremost about restricting women's rights, she said.

"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," Busby said. 

According to Mother Jones, Texas is just one of several states which have tried to legislate the disposal of fetal remains. Arkansas and Georgia already have laws resembling Texas' in effect, while Ohio, South Carolina and Mississippi have all tried, and failed, to enact similar policies. 

In March, Indiana Gov. cum Vice President-elect Mike Pence pushed forward these regulations himself, signing a bill into law calling for the burial or cremation of fetal remains and banning the donation of fetal tissue. 

"By enacting this legislation, we take an important step in protecting the unborn, while still providing an exception for the life of the mother," Pence said in a statement at the time, according to Mother Jones. "I sign this legislation with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers and families."

A federal judge later blocked the legislation — which also prohibited women from seeking an abortion based on the fetus' race, gender, or disability — in July, deeming it "impermissible." 

Vice president-elect Mike Pence
Source: 
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Reproductive rights activists in Texas have already made it clear that they plan to do anything in their power to thwart the state's new regulations. Lawyers from the Center for Reproductive Rights warned state officials in August that their plans to require abortion providers to bury or cremate fetal remains could "trigger costly litigation."

A Tribune article at the time reported on a letter the Center for Reproductive Rights addressed to the Texas Department of State Health Services, deeming the proposed regulations "in plain violation" of June's Supreme Court ruling blocking several other abortion restrictions in Texas.

"These proposed amendments have nothing to do with health and safety, and everything to do with Texas' crusade against abortion," reads the letter. "As such, they are a sham, and they will not withstand constitutional review." 

On Monday, Busby too called for Texas' regulations to be judged harshly. 

She said, "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."

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Marie Solis

Marie is a staff writer with a focus in feminist issues. Her writing has appeared in Gothamist and the Awl. You can reach her at marie@mic.com.

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