Columns

Abortion Advocates Promise to Defeat Texas’ New Fetal Remains Rule

Center for Reproductive Rights attorneys vowed to crush Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) new regulation that forces abortion clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains.

Abbott called on the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to enact a new fetal remains regulation right after the Supreme Court ruled against HB2, a Texas law that would have closed many of the state’s abortion facilities.

The rule change was proposed July 1, opening a 30-day window for public comment. The rule is expected to take effect in September.

“The Health and Human Services Commission developed new rules to ensure Texas law maintains the highest standards of human dignity,” said health commission spokesman Bryan Black.

But Center for Reproductive Rights attorneys wrote in a letter to the Texas Department of State Health Services that they will go to court to block the rule and will base their lawsuit on three arguments.

They said the Texas Department of State Health Services lacks the authority to force clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains, and even if they did have it, the new regulations “unduly burden” patients seeking abortions.

Jim Bates, director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas, submitted a letter as his testimony during a Texas Department of State Health Services public hearing on the proposal in which he said the rule change would add the price of a funeral — about $2,000 — to the cost of an abortion procedure.

Bates pointed out the proposed rule doesn’t say who would pay for the funeral or cremation.

If Texas picks up the cost, and abortions keep being performed at the rate they were in 2015, the price for all of the funerals needed in the Lone Star State would be $96 million a year.

The attorneys also plan to argue that the new rule would “further shame and stigmatize” women seeking “reproductive healthcare.”

The Texas Tribune reported Gov. Abbott used the proposed new rules to raise money for his LIFE Initiative, which he said was meant to “protect the unborn and prevent the sale of baby body parts.”

“I believe it is imperative to establish higher standards that reflect our respect for the sanctity of life,” the fundraising email read. “This is why Texas will require clinics and hospitals to bury or cremate human and fetal remains.”

A joint letter from the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas Medical Association raised the concern that women who suffer miscarriages might be forced, under the rule, to bury or cremate the remains of the fetus.

However, Texas Alliance for Life strongly supports Abbott’s rule change and said it is consistent with his LIFE Initiative.

“While the Supreme Court tragically does not allow states to ban most abortions, we believe that Texas law should be changed to assure that the bodies of the victims of abortion are not treated like medical waste,” a Texas Alliance for Life statement read. “These proposed rules validate the dignity of those unborn babies whose lives are unfortunately lost to abortion.”

Christine Melchor, speaking for the Houston Coalition for Life, testified Aug. 4 before a Department of State Health Services hearing that “disposing of these babies in a way that is not humane is wrong – this has nothing to do with so-called ‘women’s reproductive health.’”

One pro-life advocate supporting the new rule wondered aloud during the hearing about the wisdom of flushing all those body parts into the state’s sewer system.

“What if something terrible escapes?” she said to loud laughter.

Pro-choice speakers at the hearing said it was a mistake to believe abortion clinics were flushing fetal remains into the sewers.

But Rep. Mark Keough (R) testified that a woman working near an abortion facility in Houston observed tiny baby limbs and other body parts in a parking lot after a sewer line break.

Those who testified from the pro-choice side of the debate said clinics usually contract with medical waste disposal companies to get rid of fetal remains.

That plays right into one of Gov. Abbott’s arguments for the rule.

Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said the rule change is all about the governor’s belief that “fetal remains should not be treated like medical waste.”

The new rule, assuming it goes into effect this fall and is not blocked by a court, could be just the first step in forcing the burial and cremation of fetal remains in Texas.

Sen. Don Huffines (R) testified for the regulation Aug. 4 and confirmed he planned to introduce a bill to that effect during the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature.

“For too long,” Huffines said, “Texas has allowed the most innocent among us to be thrown out with the daily waste.”