Texas is quietly preparing to enact a new rule that will force abortion providers to bury or cremate fetal remains. It’s another anti-abortion restriction in a bad disguise, and it’ll pass despite public opposition because it’s not a law, but a new regulation from the Department of State Health Services.
Among all states, Texas is uniquely good at sneaking anti-abortion measures into existence. The fetal burial rule is a very good example: Indiana had their fetal burial law blocked by a judge recently, but Texas’s will pass easily, since it’s not going through the Legislature, but is being treated as a bureaucratic rule. The Dallas Morning News reports that a 30-day public comment period on the proposal will close on Monday. It’s not clear when the rule will be enacted after that; it could be immediately. Rule changes, you see, only require that a period of public comment has to happen; nobody has to listen to the comments, take them into consideration, or, in this case, consider if the rule is actually supported by doctors and public health experts. It’s not: the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association submitted a letter asking some very specific questions about the rule and making it clear they have no idea how it would actually be followed by physicians.
That’s because the new rule, as the DMN writes, “would require all medical facilities, hospitals and clinics to cremate or bury fetal remains, no matter the period of gestation.” That potentially means medical providers have to figure out how to provide burials for things like molar and ectopic pregnancies and very early-term miscarriages. Texas also hasn’t specified if death certificates have to be issued for the burials to take place; if they do, they could compromise the privacy and anonymity of the patients, as the THA and TMA point out, since death certificates become public record after one year.
The point, of course, is to create new ways to make abortions harder and more unpleasant to obtain or perform. It’s also to score Governor Greg Abbott political points: the Texas Tribune reports that he’s been sending fundraising emails touting the new restrictions. Abbott’s letter clearly identifies them as an anti-abortion effort:
“I believe it is imperative to establish higher standards that reflect our respect for the sanctity of life,” Abbott said in the email. “This is why Texas will require clinics and hospitals to bury or cremate human and fetal remains.”
About the only groups who’ve spoken in favor of the proposed rules are anti-abortion ones. A Catholic cemetery wrote a letter to DHS this summer praising the proposal and promising to provide “a reverent place of burial” for all those ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages. Here’s a screenshot of the letter, which is publicly available:
Yvonne Gutierrez, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, called the Abbott administration “shameless” in a statement, and pointed out the state’s health providers are still undoing years of damage wrought by HB 2, the massive omnibus anti-abortion law that the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional this summer.
Gutierrez added, “This government mandate is yet another thinly disguised attempt to ban abortion—and we will fight it with everything we’ve got.”
You can read the full text of the proposed rule here.