Federal Judge Delays Texas Fetal Burial Rules

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A federal judge Thursday restrained Texas from requiring women and medical providers to bury or cremate fetal remains after miscarriages, abortion and ectopic pregnancies.

The rules prohibit healthcare facilities from disposing fetal remains in sanitary landfills and require that all fetal tissue, regardless of gestation period, be cremated or buried.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks issued a temporary restraining order Thursday, delaying implementation of the rules until Jan. 6. The rules were to take effect Dec. 19.

The Center for Reproductive Rights sued the state on Monday, calling the rules an unconstitutional burden on women’s right to seek abortion.

The defendant Texas Department of Health and Human Services approved the rules in November. They were written at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott.

The Health and Human Services Commission said in the rule filing that the disposal methods would “protect the public by preventing the spread of disease while also preserving the dignity of the unborn in a manner consistent with Texas laws.”

Texas Assistant Attorney General John Langley said during the Thursday hearing that incinerating fetal remains and putting them in landfills “is disrespectful” and that the rules protect the dignity of the unborn.

Asked how the rules benefit public health, Langley called that a “side issue” and said he did not have a “satisfactory answer” to that question, according to the Austin Chronicle.

In July, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that restrictions on legal abortion cannot unduly burden a woman without providing a legitimate, medical benefit.

Judge Sparks asked the state to voluntarily delay implementing the rules until he could make a ruling, but the state refused, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Sparks said at the hearing that this was the first time Texas has “ever said it was going to go ahead” and implement a regulation when there is “a suit of substance” before a federal court.

Center for Reproductive Rights attorney David Brown said the plaintiffs are “pleased the court has prevented these outrageous restrictions from going into effect in Texas.”

He said the restrictions would have created “immediate and dangerous” barriers on women’s access to healthcare.

“We look forward to demonstrating that these regulations are unwise, unjustified and unconstitutional, and should be permanently struck down,” Brown said in a statement.

A preliminary injunction hearing has been set for Jan. 3 to 4.