Anti-abortion lawmakers and state officials across the country have gone to unusual lengths since the Supreme Court's decision in Roe vs. Wade to deter women from exercising that particular constitutional right. Lately, however, a handful of states have taken the effort to a bizarre extreme. Following the strange trail blazed by Louisiana and Indiana, Texas will soon start enforcing a new rule requiring the fetal remains from any abortion performed in a hospital or clinic in the state to be treated "with dignity" by being buried, entombed or cremated.
Currently, healthcare facilities dispose of fetal remains according to guidelines governing medical waste. That typically means turning them over to a professional company that disposes of them in a sanitary landfill.
Starting on Dec. 19, that will no longer be good enough in the Lone Star State. Nor will fetal remains be allowed to be subjected to what's known as "grinding." Officials of the Texas Department of State Health Services explained that the new rules "will protect the public by preventing the spread of disease while also preserving the dignity of the unborn in a manner consistent with Texas laws."
In fact, these new rules are nothing more than a gambit on the part of conservative Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who sought the regulations to advance the state's anti-abortion agenda by treating a fetus as if it were a deceased person. There are no health or safety reasons for the new requirements. As the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wrote to Texas health officials, there is no evidence that the current methods of disposing of fetal remains are unsafe or disrespectful. The association joined dozens of medical organizations and abortion rights groups in opposing the new rules.
Although this regulation is not nearly as onerous as the Texas law regulating doctors and abortion clinics that the Supreme Court struck down several months ago — but not before it led to the closure of half of the state's abortion clinics — it is still an unnecessary encumbrance on healthcare facilities and an affront to women who make a constitutionally guaranteed choice to have an abortion.
The state insists the new rules are not a burden. They do not apply to women who have a miscarriage or abortion at home or outside a healthcare facility. (But the remains of fetal tissue miscarried in a hospital or clinic would have to be interred or cremated.) Women do not have to pay for these services, plan a funeral or decide what will happen. It will be up to the healthcare facility to have the fetal remains— which are often only small amounts of tissue — cremated or buried. According to a state spokesperson, the remains can be scattered. Nor is a funeral home or cemetery required to be part of this process, the spokesperson notes; the cremated remains can be buried or placed in a storage location for such remains.
The state legislatures in Louisiana and Indiana earlier this year mandated the burials or cremation of fetal remains, but neither law is in effect pending the outcome of court challenges. A similar measure is making its way through the Ohio Legislature.
These mandated burial rites, no matter how modest, are part of an ongoing effort to convince the world that a fetus is a person, including measures purportedly aimed at minimizing fetal pain during abortions and declaring that fetuses have "personhood" from the moment of conception. In other words, it's all part of an effort to overturn abortion rights. What's really happening here is not an attempt to pay respect to fetuses but an attempt to disrespect women who choose to have abortions — or even those women who miscarried fetuses they wanted to carry to term. These are wrongheaded rules that should be disposed of.