Texas Health Officials Hold Public Hearing On Fetal Burial Law – Again.

Dec 11, 2017

Texas health officials held a public hearing today about a rule requiring health care facilities to bury or cremate fetal remains from abortions and miscarriages.

The provision was part of Senate Bill 8, an omnibus abortion bill that the Legislature passed during the special session over the summer.

People who spoke in favor of the fetal burial rule were mostly anti-abortion advocates. A lot of them said the debate wasn’t just about abortion, however.

“Every time a woman makes a choice, someone dies,” said Steven Devine, a Texas resident who represented himself at the hearing. “But this hearing is not about abortion; it is about how the dead are treated and handled after the abortion and after miscarriages."

Devine and other people opposed to abortion say fetal remains are being disposed of in an "undignified" way. Currently, common practice is for fetal tissue to be disposed of like most medical waste – in special landfills or through the sewer system.

People who spoke against the rule, however, say that the state shouldn’t be making decisions like this for women – especially those who are already dealing with a miscarriage.

“Dealing with grief is a very personal decision that people deal with in a variety of ways, regardless of whether or not they hold a religious faith,” said Alicia Weigel, the director of strategy and communications at Deeds Not Words, an advocacy training organization founded by former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis. “The forcing of the burial of fetal remains is religious coercion, and it’s enshrining faith into legal doctrine.”

A federal judge struck down another version of the measure, pending a trial. Judge Sam Sparks ruled that it was vague and presented an "undue burden" for women seeking abortions.

Health care providers have said the rule could increase costs, which would affect the ability of women to get medical care – including legal abortions.

But Joe Pojman, the executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, said he doesn’t think it will have much of an effect.

“The reality is that the changes to the rules are minimal and will have a very small effect on the abortion facilities and other health care providers in Texas,” he said.

Paige Nelson, who represented herself at the hearing, said the rule is political.

“These rules were originally written at the request of Gov. Abbott and submitted four days after the highest court in the land tore down Texas’ unconstitutional [abortion] laws,” she said. “These rules are used by the governor to save face in fundraising emails and to rally his base.”

Abbott said in fundraising emails earlier this year that he thinks fetal remains should not be treated like medical waste.

An abortion rights group has said it plans to challenge the law, which goes into effect Dec. 19.