Abortion facilities could face new rules for fetal tissue disposal

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced new, proposed rules that would mandate abortion providers to either cremate or bury fetal remains.

Currently, fetal tissue can be incinerated or ground and then taken to a landfill.

“I had an abortion. You wonder what happened to your baby,” said Heidi Group CEO Carol Everett.  

Everett not only had an abortion of her own, but 30 years ago she worked at four different abortion clinics.

“There were two ways they disposed of the babies. The first and most common was to use a garbage disposal in our facilities and the facilities I was familiar with in Texas,” said Everett. 

The other way tissue is handled is by incinerating remains and putting them in a landfill. Everett said she has always felt there was a better way to handle fetal tissue after an abortion.

“Babies could be disposed of humanely by cremating them or burying them,” Everett said. 

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission proposed just that, a rule that would require abortion clinics to cremate or bury fetal remains. Not everyone is happy with the proposal.

“This new rule is a new low from Texas lawmakers who are committed to making it more difficult for doctors to provide abortion and more difficult for Texans to access abortions,” said Zoey Lichtenheld with the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws or NARAL.

Lichtenheld said the timing of this new proposed rule change proves it's about more than standard of care. 

“So this rule from Texas leaders came just four days after the U.S. Supreme Court shut down a couple Texas abortion restrictions. So we know that anti-abortion lawmakers in Texas are eager to find new and creative ways to restrict access to abortion and they're not going to wait until the legislative session if they can help it,” said Lichtenheld. 

Everett said the current protocols for disposing fetal remains not only affect women, but could impact all Texans.

“There’s several health concerns. What if the woman had HIV? What if she had a sexually transmitted disease? What if those germs went through and got into our water supply?” Everett asked.

Lichtenheld said she is concerned that the new rules will shame women who are seeking abortion care.

“It is absolutely degrading to someone to say that if they choose to have an abortion that their fetus will have to be buried or cremated. It's incredibly disrespectful,” said Lichtenheld. 

“Regulations can't hurt that woman. What's going to hurt her if the standards are higher for her care?” said Everett.  

Whatever Texas health officials decide, there is sure to be a new political battle in the Capitol come January.

“We’re prepared to fight this regulation and the avalanche of anti-abortion legislation that we expect to see in the next legislative session,” Lichtenheld said. 

There is a 30 day comment period where the public can address the rule change by contacting the Department of State Health Services.  After the comment period, the rule will be considered and could take effect as early as September.

At least one lawmaker has said he will file a bill to make the new rule a law in the Lone Star State.

Governor Greg Abbott has already voiced his support for such a law.