On December 19, Texas will implement one of the most absurd abortion laws in recent memory: health care providers are now required to cremate or bury fetal remains. Once the new rules are enacted, health care facilities, including regular hospitals and abortion clinics, can no longer dispose of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, regardless of the gestation period. Instead, remains will need to be treated “using the process of cremation, entombment, burial, or placement in a niche or by using the process of cremation followed by placement of the ashes in a niche, grave, or scattering of ashes as authorized by law.” Thankfully, women who suffer miscarriages at home are not required to bring their dead children to a health care facility to be buried.
The bill, introduced by the Health and Human Services Commission in July, is supposedly meant to enhance public health and safety. Texas’ Republican governor, Greg Abbott, who pushed the commission to propose the bill, told its supporters in an email that he doesn’t believe fetuses should be “treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills.” Similar versions of Texas’s bill have passed in Indiana and Louisiana, but they have yet to be put into effect.
Unsurprisingly, reproductive rights advocates fought hard against the new law. In hearings questioning the validity of the bill’s health-related justifications, Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas both testified there is not enough evidence that current methods of disposing fetal remains, which have been in use for 20 years, are detrimental to public safety. Many women also questioned why Texas continues to make pursuing their legal health care a struggle. Even after suffering the trauma and pain of an abortion, they must also now bear the burden of knowing the fetus will have to be buried or cremated.
Opponents of the bill found an unlikely ally in the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas. A representative for the group testified that the state did not properly analyze the fiscal burden this bill would incur. The state concluded that there would be no cost to the people who must comply with the law, but as the FCAT pointed out, the average funeral service in Texas costs $2,000.
Both the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association voiced similar concerns about the financial implications of implementing such a bill, but Texas health officials simply told them that costs would be offset when other methods of disposal were terminated, and that is their “duty” to protect the public’s health in accordance with the “state’s respect for life and dignity of the unborn.”
The bill won’t get by so easily though. The Center for Reproductive Rights will most likely file lawsuits against the state if the bill is implemented, although they haven’t taken any direct legal action yet. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood has filed lawsuits in Alaska, Missouri and North Carolina in an attempt to protect abortion rights in places where state legislature has made access to health care increasingly difficult.