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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Texas Women Fight Rule for Burial of Miscarriages

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — As Hillary Clinton gave her concession speech Wednesday, women in Texas pleaded with state officials to stop proposed rules that would require embryonic and fetal tissue to be buried or cremated after an abortion, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.

Women said Texas' proposed rules would restrict access to abortion and inflict further pain and suffering on women who have lost a baby during pregnancy.

It was the Texas Department of Health Services' second public hearing on rules that would require embryonic and fetal tissue to be buried or cremated after an abortion, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.

Texas officials say that all fetal remains, regardless of the period of gestation, deserve "a dignified interment," while opponents say the measure is just another in a series of unconstitutional attempts to restrict abortion access in Texas.

"These proposed rules are not meant to protect people's health and safety," said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. "They are just another attempt to restrict access to care that's deeply needed and shame and hurt women in the process.

"The department has not provided any shred of evidence that Texas's current rules have not protected health and safety." Some spoke on behalf of groups such as the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) or Jane's Due Process, some on their own behalf. Many shared painful stories of their miscarriages or abortions, and said that having arrange a funeral for fetal remains would have made these experiences even worse.

There also are concerns about how the rules will be implemented.

The Texas Medical Association asked the Department of Health Services in August whether a death certificate will be required all fetal tissues interred, which raises privacy issues.

The Medical Association also expressed concerns about the costs of this, echoing concerns the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas raised in July.

Ashley Blinkhorn, who cried as she testified about the two miscarriages she suffered before she was 25, said the rules would affect "so many people in so many ways that people aren't considering."

"You're monkeying around with people's lives here," Blinkhorn said.

Texas Health Commission spokesman Bryan Black told the Texas Tribune in July, after the new rules were quietly published in the Texas Register, that they were developed to "ensure Texas law maintains the highest standards of human dignity."

Gov. Greg Abbott asked the department and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in January to review the rules on disposition of "special waste" from healthcare facilities.

The rules today still allow for fetal tissue to be incinerated or ground and flushed or disposed of at a sanitary landfill.

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" and that the groups protesting the rules "simply refuse to acknowledge any rights of the unborn."

Representatives from the Texas Alliance for Life and Texas Right to Life made similar arguments at the Wednesday hearing.

"It is unconscionable that anyone would defend the grinding and flushing of the bodies of unborn babies who are victims of abortion down the drain and into a city sewer system as if they were mere medical waste," said John Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life. "That method of the disposition of the remains should be banned, as the proposed rules do."

Blake Rocap, legislative director for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said the state should concentrate on ensuring that patients are "supported and respected and empowered in their health care decision," instead of "passing laws that force government intrusion on a patient's access to health care."

"This rule provides no public health benefit, just like the state's abortion restrictions that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in June," Rocap said in a statement Wednesday.

He referred to Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, in which the court rejected by 5-3 vote 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.

The court found that neither provision provided any medical benefits that would justify the undue burdens imposed upon women seeking abortions.

Opponents to the new fetal burial rules believe that even if they do go into effect, they will be struck down by the courts on the basis of Hellerstedt.

However, they also are concerned that president-elect Donald Trump may appoint a justice to the truncated court that may help overturn Hellerstedt, and even Roe v. Wade.

The Center for Reproductive Rights said in a statement Wednesday that the country "strands perilously close to a return to the dark days when women were forced to put their own lives at risk to get safe and legal abortion care."

"It is 2016, and our leaders should build on the historic advancements we've made for women's health and rights, not threaten to undo them," the center said.

It's clear that a fight is coming in Texas.

"I'm sure that after last night's results many people feel emboldened to continue their attacks on women," said Sheila Sorvari, who testified Wednesday. "But if you thought we were going to pull up the covers and cry and go away, you're wrong."

The Texas Department of Health Services will incorporate comments from the hearing with previous comments from the public consultation period in August.

It is unclear whether any changes will be made to the proposed rules. No date has been set for the rules to go into effect.

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