On Monday, Texas officially approved a law requiring healthcare providers to bury or cremate aborted fetuses, rather than disposing of them along with other biomedical waste. The law, which was introduced in July and met with outrage from reproductive rights advocates, will go into effect on December 19.
In March, Indiana Governor-turned Vice President-elect Mike Pence signed a similar law in his home state. At the time, the Indiana law was a backward, absurd outlier. It was disturbing and outrageous, but it was also so far out of left field that those of us outside of Indiana could mostly just shake our heads at it. It seemed unreal, like the Alabama law that allows lawyers to represent fetuses in court, or the North Carolina law that actually requires middle school teachers to teach the outright lie that abortions lead to future miscarriages. When a federal judge prevented the Indiana law from going into effect, it seemed we would be able to put the failed absurdity behind us.
But now, the governor who oversaw the passage of that arcane law is headed to the White House, and compulsory fetal funerals no longer sound out of place or comical. Instead, they’re fitting in with the new normal of dystopian nonfiction that we’re about to live through—right along with a Goldman Sachs veteran in charge of the U.S. Treasury, a charter-school billionaire in charge of education and swastikas being painted on walls across the country. The Texas law was introduced in July, but it feels all too fitting that it would be approved in Trump’s brave new America.
Fetal funerals are fitting in with the new normal of dystopian nonfiction that we’re about to live through.
Some women choose to hold funerals or memorials for their aborted or miscarried fetuses. That’s well within their rights, and if it helps them cope with their grief or reach some sense of closure, then good for them. But the idea that a state would require fetuses, which are not legally people, to be given the funeral rites is absurd. This requirement is a transparent ploy to intimidate and humiliate women seeking abortions and to make the procedures even less accessible than they already are. Healthcare officials told the Texas Tribune that healthcare providers, not patients, would absorb the costs of this morbid and ridiculous farce, but it’s hard to believe that the cost—which can be thousands of dollars—won’t find its way down to the patient in some way or another.
In support of the bill, Texas’s governor, Republican Greg Abott, wrote in a fundraising email that he doesn’t believe fetal remains should be “treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills.” Here’s the problem with that logic: under federal law, thanks to Roe v. Wade, a fetus is medical waste until at least the end of the second trimester. Even in staunchly conservative Texas, abortion is legal up to 20 weeks—meaning that before 20 weeks, a fetus is not legally a person but is instead considered a part of the pregnant woman’s body. The new law applies to all fetal remains, regardless of how long they’ve been gestating; that means that the law requires funeral rights for clumps of cells that are not viewed as human beings under both state and federal laws. The only kind of law that views fetuses of just a few weeks as human, and therefore capable of dying, is church law, which isn’t supposed to dictate the laws of this nation.
If this law had been passed even a month ago, it would be reasonable to believe that a federal judge would strike it down, as they did the similar Indiana law. But today, with the only certainty about the near-future being the abundance of restrictions on civil liberties that are sure to come, it’s no longer comically absurd. It’s scary and despicable—but it’s also real life.