New Texas rule requires fetuses from abortions and miscarriages to be buried or cremated

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Texas State Senator-Elect Bryan Hughes speaks at a panel on abortion rights at The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday Sept. 24, 2016.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

A new rule in Texas will require fetal remains from abortions and miscarriages to be buried or cremated.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission introduced the rule early in July with little to no announcement. While it is not a Texas law enacted by the Legislature, the rule will no longer allow abortion providers to dispose fetus tissue in sanitary landfills.

On Sept. 30, the rule will go into the Texas Register, a journal of state-agency rule-making in Texas, and will require a 30-day public comment period before it can go into effect.

Hearings were held in early August to listen to testimony on the rules, but no changes were made. The rules were republished in the register with updated information to clarify some issues several organizations had.

Blake Rocap, member of the NARAL Pro-Choice Texas legislative counsel, said the Department of State Health Services did not take the requests from public comment and testimony over the summer seriously.

“This new rule continues to treat embryonic and fetal tissue as a separate category of medical waste, a distinction with no basis in science,” Rocap said in an email. “Just like the state abortion restrictions that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in June, there is no public health benefit to requiring stricter disposal methods of one type of tissue over another.”

The Texas Medical Association and Texas Hospital Association raised concerns on who would bear the costs of the burials and cremations in a joint letter to the department.

They also asked the department to reconsider the rules for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and molar pregnancies, as an exception was not made for them.

The costs of the new procedures will be offset by current spending on “transportation, storage, incineration, steam disinfection and/or landfill disposal,” according to Carrie Williams, chief press officer for the Texas commission.

Williams also said the rules only apply to fetal tissue generated by healthcare facilities.

“I find it absolutely ridiculous that Gov. [Greg] Abbott and his cronies are pushing this issue,” said public relations junior Joseph Trahan, communications director for University Democrats. “Requiring a cremation or burial necessitates money, which often times, the women who are choosing to have an abortion don’t have an abundance of. A woman’s right to choose has been upheld by the Supreme Court, and I guarantee Texas Democrats will fight this within the legal system.“

Paige Kubenka, member of Texas Students for Life, supports the law and said the organization is for the lives of human people at all stages of life.

“[The rule] gives the fetus the respect that we give other humans when they pass away,” said Kubenka, a rhetoric and writing freshman.

In a fundraising letter sent out in July, Abbott said he would do everything in his power to protect “Texans’ basic rights and dignities.”

“I believe it is imperative to establish higher standards that reflect our respect for the sanctity of life,” Abbott wrote. “But I don’t believe human and fetal remains should be treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills.”

Ciara Matthews, Abbott’s deputy communications director, said the governor wants the 85th Legislature to consider the rules in the upcoming session in hopes they will turn the rules into state law.

This story has been updated since its initial publication to correct a spelling error of "cremations."