AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — All embryonic tissue, including miscarriages, must be buried or cremated in Texas beginning Dec. 19 under new rules that opponents call a “thinly veiled” attempt to shame women and make it harder to obtain abortions.
The new 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, be they from abortion, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.
The final version of the rules was submitted to the secretary of state on Monday. It contains few concessions to people who objected during a public consultation period in which the state received more than 35,000 comments.
Medical organizations, legal experts and abortion rights groups say the rules offer no public health or safety benefit and placed an undue, unconstitutional burden on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.
“These new restrictions reveal the callous indifference that Texas politicians have toward women,” Center for Reproductive Rights attorney David Brown said in a statement.
“Forcing a woman to pay for a burial after she ends a pregnancy or experiences a miscarriage is not just absurd, it is an unnecessary burden and an instruction on her personal beliefs.”
In the rule filing, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says, “the methods allowed by the rules will protect the public by preventing the spread of disease while also preserving the dignity of the unborn in a manner consistent with Texas laws.”
The ruling does not specify how the new disposal methods would prevent the spread of disease.
State officials denied that charge that the law and rules are a “thinly veiled” attempt to shame women. They said in the filing that the rules “impose an obligation on facilities, not on individuals, and as a result do not shame or stigmatize women seeking abortions.”
Gov. Greg Abbott in January directed the health commission and the Texas Department of State Health Services to review the rules on disposition of “special waste” from healthcare facilities.
Abbott wrote in a July fund-raising letter for his anti-abortion initiative that the rule changes were designed to “reflect our respect for the sanctity of life.”
The new rules were proposed in July, four days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 2013 Texas law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, and required the clinics to meet the same minimum standards as ambulatory surgical centers.
“As was decided this summer in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court ruled that you can’t put a burden in the path of women seeking safe abortion care unless you can justify that it somehow furthers women’s health and safety,” Whole Woman’s Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said in a statement Thursday.
“This administrative rule has nothing to do with women’s health and safety; it is clearly unconstitutional.”
In an August letter, the Center for Reproductive Rights warned Texas that the new rules would “almost certainly trigger costly litigation for Texas,” though no legal action has been taken yet.
Opponents are planning to protest and deliver a petition to Abbott on Dec. 19.
State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, pre-filed House Bill 201 to set the fetal tissue disposition rules into statute, and allow the Department of State Health Services to fine and suspend or revoke the license of any healthcare facility that violates them.