Texas abortion rule mandating burial or cremation opposed by healthcare providers, funeral directors

FILE PHOTO © Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Texas will soon require abortion providers to cremate or bury all fetal remains. Lawmakers defend the legislation by arguing that it places no undue burden on women, but many are concerned about how this will affect women’s healthcare in Texas.

Texas Department of State Health Services officials finalized new rules for abortion providers on Monday that will mandate all aborted fetuses be cremated or buried, regardless of trimester. The rules are set to take effect on December 19 to the dismay of reproductive rights activists, the medical community and the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas.

The administrative rule was instituted in July and was supported by a number of pro-life and Christian organizations, but it did not receive any blessings from medical associations, civil rights groups or social worker groups who all spoke out against the regulation. The cost of cremation or funerals would not be shouldered by the patients but rather the clinics and hospitals.

Some see this as an attempt to force medical providers from providing abortions due to the basic funeral service fee of $2,000, according to a letter from the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas to the State Health Service in late July.

Health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams countered this argument, telling the Dallas Morning News: "While the methods described in the new rules may have a cost, that cost is expected to be offset by costs currently being spent by facilities on disposition for transportation, storage, incineration, steam disinfection and/or landfill disposal."

The health commission also defended the measure as a move to enhance the "protection of the health and safety of the public." However, the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association both disagreed with this, as did the Healthcare Waste Institute of the National Waste and Recycling Association (HWI), which felt it posed more risks than benefits.

The HWI pointed out that these rules require generators that can separate waste materials for proper handling, which is impossible for the commercial facilities that handle this kind of medical waste.

Even attempting to do so would place employees at great risk,” the HWI commented.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also commented that there is no evidence that current disposal methods pose any public health risk, commenting that “the current laws and professional standards already require safe and respectful disposition of medical waste.

The regulation originally called for the same funeral treatment to be extended to miscarried fetuses or abortions that occur at home, such as women who procure a medical abortion via pill. That provision was later removed, further complicating the logic behind requiring cremation for fetal tissue resulting from abortions.

Reproductive rights activists believe that the upcoming law has nothing to do with safely disposing medical waste.

"This regulation has no basis in public health, and it's just a pretext for putting an additional burden on women who choose abortion or who suffer miscarriage," staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, David Brown, told Broadly.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) expressed similar thoughts. Trisha Trigilio, a staff attorney for the ACLU, told Broadly, "These are special regulations that only apply to fetal tissue, not other human tissue, and the rules only apply to health care facilities like abortion providers, not women who may miscarry in their homes. Texas has advanced zero evidence – zero – that there is a public health reason to treat miscarriages and abortions differently."