Only days after reproductive rights advocates celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a law that would have shuttered the vast majority of abortion clinics in Texas, Gov Greg Abbott quietly proposed new rules that would require aborted foetuses to be buried or cremated.
Mr Abbott published the proposal 1 July to be available for public comment for 30 days. Following that period, the new rules could easily be implemented, bypassing a vote by state legislators.
“Governor Abbott believes human and foetal remains should not be treated like medical waste, and the proposed rule changes affirms the value and dignity of all life,” the governor’s spokesperson, Ciara Matthews, told the Associated Press.
In Texas, state agencies can implement new rules without receiving formal approval from lawmakers. Although, it is unusual for governors to propose the rule themselves, but agency staff. Along with his appointed director of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Mr Abbott proposed the new rules without formal review period with the agency.
Abortion rights advocates see the move as yet another effort by the anti-abortion governor to make abortion inaccessible for Texas women, and the new rules would bring non-medical ceremonial, non-medical processes into medical regulation.
“I think the biggest point is you have [a state] agency, through the governor’s fiat, propose his own idea of tradition and ceremony into a space where it doesn’t belong,” legal counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Blake Rocap told The Independent.
“It’s obviously another way to make the provision of medical care harder in the state of Texas,” he added. “It’s another obstacle and hoop for doctors to have to jump through at no discernable benefit to anyone.”
Mr Rocap explained that, at this stage, it remains unclear the full impact the new rules would have on women seeking abortions and the clinics themselves – an issue he attributes to the hastiness of the rules’ publication.
“There’s no information about how they would enforce. Once they publish the rule, there’s no guidance,” he said. “I can say that it definitely involves a separate contractor – licensed funeral home, funeral home director, or cemetery – that currently is not involved in the provision of medical care. No one knows the extent they have to comply.”
For instance, cremations in Texas require the issuance of a death certificate from the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Mr Abbott’s rules, however, do not stipulate whether or not such a certificate would be required if foetal tissue is sent to a crematorium. If so, Mr Rocap warns, it could effectively create a public database of women who have had abortions in Texas.
The new rules also have the potential for women who wish to donate foetal tissue for scientific research purposes – this could include families who have suffered miscarriages who decide to sent foetal tissue to pathology to learn why the pregnancy did not come to term.
“If this tissue has to be cremated or buried, families don’t have the advantage of modern science to have healthy pregnancy,” Mr Rocap said.
Much of the language coming from Mr Abbott’s administration, he added, seems to stem from the debunked claim by an anti-abortion organisation, Center for Medical, Progress that Planned Parenthood sold foetal tissue for profit.
“If you look at all of these anti abortion regulations, they are all based on false premises,” he said. “They are telling lies about medical practice ... and turning those lies into laws.”
Gov Abbott’s proposed rules are similar to a portion of an Indiana bill signed into law by GOP vice presidential candidate Gov Mike Pence, which was similar to Texas’ HB2 and included foetal remain rules, according to the AP.
A federal judge granted an injunction after the Supreme Court decided against the Texas law.
Indiana infamously convicted 33-year-old Purvi Patel for feticide and neglect of a dependent after suffering a miscarriage. Ms Patel admitted to disposing of the foetus in a dumpster after going to the hospital for excessive bleeding. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison in March 2015.
The state of Ohio, too, enacted rules requiring foetuses be disposed of in a “humane” manner – the definition of which remains unclear.
Mr Rocap said that representatives from NARAL are bringing their grievances about Mr Abbott’s break in procedure to the HHSC, and encouraged the governor to bring the issue to a public debate.
“We can have a debate about whether it is appropriate or not to do foetal tissue research,” he said. “Let’s hear from the scientists who are doing the research. ...
“It shows a real lack of courage and leadership to do it in the dark of night.”