A proposed state rule requiring the cremation or burial of miscarried and aborted fetuses will not cost medical facilities more money despite concerns from abortion rights advocates, according to an analysis by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
“What we found through our research is that the proposed rules won’t increase total costs for health care facilities,” agency spokeswoman Carrie Williams said.
Current rules allow fetal remains, as with other medical tissue, to be ground up and discharged into a sewer system, incinerated, disinfected or handled by some other approved process, followed by disposal in a landfill.
The state agency said in its analysis, published Thursday, that the purpose of the rule is the “protection of the health and safety of the public” from communicable diseases.
The rule, unchanged from when it was first proposed in July, is now subject to a 30-day public comment period before it goes into effect at a later unspecified date.
Abortion advocates have said the proposal, which would change how health care providers dispose of fetal remains that aren’t donated for research, would drive up the cost of an abortion and discourage women from seeking a safe procedure.
“The Department of State Health Services did not take seriously, and refuses to respond to, the thousands of public comments, and hours of testimony opposing these rules, that they received this summer,” said Blake Rocap with abortion rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “This new rule continues to treat fetal and embryonic tissue as a separate category of medical waste, with no basis in science.”
The fetal tissue disposal rule would affect 236 small facilities, primarily abortion facilities and ambulatory centers. Officials said in the analysis that those facilities could incur some cost, “but that cost is expected to be off-set” by the money the facilities spend now on disposing tissue.
Facilities could also save money by working with private entities who have offered to help pay for burial fees, according to the analysis. The analysis also said that agency officials considered exempting smaller facilities from the new rule, but decided against it. They said that small facilities “face the same risks associated with handling this specific type of tissue” as larger facilities, such as hospitals.
“The agency suggests that private entities, presumably with no license as a medical waste disposal company, will dispose of fetal and embryonic tissue free of cost; therefore, not placing any cost burden on abortion providers. The idea that compliance with a state health regulation should hinge on the illusory, nonbinding promise from unknown persons is unheard of,” Rocap said.
The proposal is part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Life initiative,” which is meant to “protect the unborn and prevent the sale of baby body parts,” according to his website.
The change wouldn’t need legislative approval and falls under the general authority that the state health agency has to amend rules “as needed to keep them current,” Williams has said.