Hearing on new rules for fetal burial or cremation turns emotional

A proposed state rule requiring the cremation or burial of miscarried and aborted fetuses would raise costs for patients and providers, invade the privacy of women and emotionally burden parents, said physicians and abortion rights advocates on Thursday.

Abortion opponents, including Republican lawmakers, said the rule would protect the “sanctity of life.”

About 90 people spoke at a packed public hearing on the proposed rule before the Texas Department of State Health Services finalizes it, possibly by the fall. The department had also received 12,000 written comments.

READ: Proposed Texas rules: Fetal remains must be buried or cremated

“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. “Life begins at conception.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services, at the behest of Gov. Greg Abbott, proposed rules on July 1 that would change how health care providers dispose of fetal remains that aren’t donated for research.

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 proposal is part of the governor’s “Life initiative,” which is meant to “protect the unborn and prevent the sale of baby body parts,” according to Abbott’s website. The change wouldn’t need legislative approval and falls under the general authority that the state health department has to amend rules “as needed to keep them current,” agency spokeswoman Carrie Williams said.

Tearful testimony

At a few points during the emotionally charged hearing Thursday, women shared tearful stories about their miscarriages and abortions.

One woman in favor of the proposed rule spoke of the closure she will receive when she buries the fetus she miscarried last month. Another said that she had an abortion after she was raped and that if she had been forced to bury the fetus, “it would have essentially been the state of Texas rubbing my face in my own rape.”

Williams said the rule would leave it up to providers to decide how to pay for the burial and cremation.

Trisha Trigilio, attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said that requiring women or providers to find burial or cremation services for their fetus would drive up the cost of an abortion and discourage women from seeking a safe procedure.

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The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas, which opposes the rule, said in written comments that the basic charge for funeral services is $2,000.

On behalf of 85 lawmakers who signed a letter of support for the rule, state Rep. Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, said the new rule wouldn’t limit access to abortions because clinics can contract with hospitals to cremate and many providers already contract with a waste disposal company.

“Now is the time that Texas needs to update its standard of practice to rightfully ensure every sacred human life is treated with the utmost care and respect,” he said.

‘A cruel mandate’

But the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Texas district of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in written comments, said the rule has no public health benefit.

“Mandating that fetal tissue at any point in gestation be collected for cremation or interment could become a cruel mandate on a woman who is experiencing the grief and trauma of losing a very wanted pregnancy,” the groups said of the rule’s impact on women who miscarry.

The Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association also submitted comments to the department that questioned whether a death certificate for the fetus, which would include the mother’s information, would become public.

The Center for Reproductive Rights on Tuesday submitted comments to the state health department, questioning the constitutionality of the proposed rule. The center said that the change would “fly directly in the faces of the Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt.”

In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas regulations — requiring abortions to be performed in hospital-like surgical centers and doctors to have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals — that would have closed more than half of the state’s abortion clinics.

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