Abortion providers in Texas have again come under threat as state will later this month require clinics to cremate or bury fetal remains, in line with new rules proposed by the state’s Department of Health Services.
Reproductive rights advocates oppose the policy on the grounds that it will restrict access to abortion in the state. Previously, abortion providers disposed of fetal remains in a sanitary landfill in line with practices on dealing with other medical waste. But now regardless of the gestational period, Texas will require what it calls “the proper disposition of tissue that results from spontaneous and induced abortions.”
“The rules carry out the department's duty to protect public health in a manner that is consonant with the State's respect for life and dignity of the unborn,” Texas said in the state register.
The rules were proposed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and were drafted in the Department of Health Services, but Texas state Republicans filed legislation to make them law when they return to the capitol in next year. They would not apply to miscarriages or abortions carried out in the home.
“These rules have nothing to do with the safe practice of modern medicine, but instead are part of a nationwide effort to enact unnecessary regulations that restrict access to abortion,” NARAL Pro-Choice Texas said in July following the initial announcement of the rules. “The health agency could update these rules without making them a backdoor ban on abortion by holding public hearings, consulting with medical providers and writing rules that follow modern medicine. The addition of a non-medical ritual to current clinical practice only serves to further interfere with a patient’s autonomy and ability to make their own decisions about their medical care.”
Those opposing the new rules say they may cause fewer women to seek out the service. Texas held two public hearings and solicited written comments regarding the proposal. The state received a total of 35,663 comments.
Texas is familiar ground in the legal fight over abortion rights, which are protected by the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Abbott published the new rules this summer just a week after the Supreme court ruled a series of other regulations in a 2013 Texas law were unconstitutional. That bill, signed into law by then Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, would have required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and clinics as well as requiring clinics to meet standards of ambulatory surgical centers.. It would have severely restricted access to abortion in the state, as all non-compliant abortion providers would have been forced to close.
The medical community also opposes the new rules, arguing there is no evidence they improve patient health and safety. Health care facilities, not patients, will be responsible for the burials and cremations, and providers are concerned about related costs.
The state said “the department estimates that the costs for health care-related facilities to comply will be sufficiently low such that the costs can be absorbed by facilities as part of their operating costs while providing a public health benefit by ensuring the proper disposal of fetal tissue.”
There is likely to be a legal challenge in court to the rules, which also come amid concerns President-elect Donald Trump will gut access to reproductive health care. He has said Roe v. Wade should be overturned and wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act.