AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Anti-abortion activists came out in droves to a Texas House committee hearing Wednesday to testify against a bill that would require fetal remains to be given a funeral after a miscarriage, abortion, or ectopic pregnancy — saying the bill didn’t go far enough.
The purpose of House Bill 35, by Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, is to “express the state’s profound respect for the life of the unborn by providing for a dignified disposition of embryonic and fetal tissue remains,” according to the text.
It would require all fetal remains to be cremated or interred, and prohibit health care facilities from disposing the remains in sanitary landfills, which is the most used and least expensive method of disposal. It would also prohibit grinding of fetal remains and disposal in a sewer system, a method that abortion providers say is not used, anyway.
“When those on death row convicted of a most heinous crime are executed, we bury them,” Cook said at the hearing. “We don’t put them down a garbage disposal or in a landfill. Even veterinary clinics have more human and dignified methods for placement of deceased animals.”
Similar rules requiring burial of fetal remains, adopted by the Texas Department of State Health Services in November, were blocked by a federal judge in January.
In a preliminary injunction order, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said that the rules “likely are unconstitutionally vague and impose an undue burden on the right to abortion.”
Sparks said the potential costs and logistics of implementation of the rules would “deliver a major, if not fatal, blow to healthcare providers performing abortions.”
Assistant Attorney General Brantley Starr told the House State Affairs Committee that H.B. 35 would “moot out” that litigation.
Starr said he believes that when Sparks enjoined the fetal burial rules, the judge incorrectly applied the standard used by the Supreme Court in Whole Women’s v. Hellerstedt, which held that restrictions on legal abortion cannot unduly burden a woman without providing a legitimate medical benefit.
“The court concluded incorrectly that standard applies to a law like this, which is not a medical law or a health law, it’s a dignity or respect of life law,” Starr said. He said the bill does not impose a significant obstacle an abortion.
That’s precisely why dozens of anti-abortion activists testified against it, saying it does not do enough to protect “the unborn.”
Caleb Head, a self-described abortion “abolitionist,” asked the committee how they could argue about “how we should dispose of dead children” when “the people are demanding that you just stop the murder of children that gives you the problem of dead bodies to begin with.”
“This bill would be irrelevant if you were to pass a bill that would abolish abortion entirely,” Head said.
His stance was reiterated by a steady stream of activists, many of whom urged the committee to consider instead another bill proposed this session: House Bill 948.
That bill, by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, would charge women and doctors with murder for an abortion.
Tinderholt said his bill would force women to be “more personally responsible” for sex.
A visibly frustrated committee, chaired by Cook, continuously reminded witnesses to limit their testimony to H.B. 35, but the bulk of the testimony strayed off the topic.
Using an odd parable, one witness compared the bill to a farmer urging people to “look at the horsey” while children were on his property shooting kittens.
A few witnesses compared the bill to the Holocaust.
“I don’t think Jewish people would have cared how you disposed of their body,” said Sonia Ganela from Abolish Abortion TX. “Dignity comes before you killed somebody.”
Cook, who said at the beginning of the hearing that he would be open to suggestions for the committee to suggest substitute legislation, was disappointed that so few witnesses ended up speaking about his bill during the hearing.
“It never occurred to me that there would be folks that would be against changing current laws with respect to fetal disposition,” Cook said.
The bill was left pending in committee.