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Updated: 4:59 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 | Posted: 4:59 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016

Texas to require burial or cremation of aborted, miscarried fetuses

Medical facilities must bury or cremate fetal tissue
Lexi Cardenas stands in the back of the room holding a sign during an August hearing about proposed rules that aborted and miscarried fetuses not used for scientific research must be buried or cremated.

By Julie Chang

Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas —

Medical facilities in Texas will be required to cremate or bury aborted and miscarried fetuses starting Dec. 19.

Since the policy was first proposed in July, the Texas Department of State Health Services held two public hearings and received 35,000 comments from abortion rights advocates and their opponents, who have argued that the policy would give fetuses the respect that they deserve.

Critics, however, said the rule is unconstitutional because it discourages women from getting an abortion. Opponents also said the rule retraumatizes women after a miscarriage, and that it doesn’t protect the public’s health.

“The addition of nonmedical ritual to current clinical practice only serves to further interfere with a patient’s autonomy and decision-making in their own medical care,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “Instead of passing laws that further complicate a patient’s experience and force them to consider burial services, we should focus on making sure that patients are supported, respected, and empowered in their decision.”

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Agency officials have argued that the rule will protect the public from communicable diseases.

Current rules allow fetal remains, as with other medical tissue, to be ground and discharged into a sewer system, incinerated or disinfected and then disposed of in a landfill.

The proposal is part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Life Initiative, meant to “protect the unborn and prevent the sale of baby body parts,” according to a statement on his website.

“These rules provide a comparable level of protection to public health, while eliminating disposition options that are clearly incompatible with the Legislature’s articulated objective of protecting the dignity of the unborn,” according to the agency’s justification for the new policy, published in the Texas Register on Monday.

Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the state Health and Human Services Commission, said the agency tweaked the original proposal after feedback from the public. Women who miscarry at home are excluded from the disposal requirements, and birth and death certificates aren’t required for burial and cremation of a fetus.

The new fetal tissue rule would affect 236 small facilities, primarily abortion facilities and ambulatory centers, according to the state’s analysis.

The analysis said those facilities could incur some cost, “but that cost is expected to be off-set” by the money the facilities spend now on disposing of tissue.

Facilities could also save money by working with private entities that have offered to help cover burial fees, according to the analysis.

The rule wouldn’t need legislative approval as it is subject to the general authority of the state health agency to amend rules “as needed to keep them current,” Williams has said.

Still, state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, filed a bill this month that would require health care facilities, including abortion clinics, to ensure that all fetal remains are buried or cremated.

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