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Abortion-rights supporters submit petition against Texas mandatory funeral rules

Abortion-rights supporters on Wednesday submitted a petition against proposed rules that would require the cremation or burial of fetal remains in Texas, the Dallas Morning News reports (Ketterer, Dallas Morning News, 10/26).

Currently, abortion providers in the state contract with third-party services to dispose of fetal tissue. The new requirements, which seem to apply to all stages of fetal development, also appear to apply to fetal tissue resulting from abortion and from miscarriage.

Stakeholders voice widespread concerns about proposed rules

Texas officials originally published the proposed rules in the Texas Register on July 1 without an announcement and with minimal notification. The rules were open to a 30-day public comment period.

Stakeholders responded to the initial proposal in more than 12,000 comments, and during a public hearing with reproductive-rights advocates, medical professionals and funeral directors voiced opposition to the rules.

Many stakeholders echoed concerns previously expressed by the Center for Reproductive Rights that the proposed rules were unconstitutional and would result in a legal challenge. In addition, representatives from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas said the state has not submitted evidence that existing protocol for fetal tissue disposal is not optimal for public health and safety, or any less safe than the proposed revision.

Several medical professionals also reiterated concerns expressed by the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association regarding the logistics of the rule's enforcement. They questioned how the rules would be applied in cases when a woman miscarries at home, asking whether a woman would be required to take tissue resulting from miscarriage to a health care provider.

Stakeholders also asked whether the proposed requirements would create a mandate for death certificates necessary for cremation and burial.

Officials re-submit rules with amended financial analysis

In September, state officials republished the proposed rules without any changes, despite the widespread criticism and threat of a legal challenge.

The rules, republished Sept. 30, are open to another 30-day public comment period (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/26). According to Dallas Morning News, the new comment period on the rules ends on Monday. State officials have not disclosed when the rules will take effect (Dallas Morning News, 10/26).

While officials did not change the proposal, they amended a financial analysis of the rules in response to stakeholders' concerns about who would bear the cost. The amended analysis said the rules would not increase the "total costs" for providers. It claimed that while the methods of fetal tissue disposal permitted under the rules "may have a cost...that cost is expected to be offset" by the costs providers already incur by contracting with third-party medical waste companies (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/26).

Advocates submit additional comments

On Wednesday, abortion-rights supporters, organized by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, gathered outside of the Texas Department of State Health Services and submitted comments opposing the rules with more than 5,500 signatures.

Blake Rocap, legislative counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said, "The rules target physicians [who] provide abortions and the hospitals that care for patients for no reason other than to make it harder to get a safe, legal abortion in Texas," adding, "It's so transparent that what they're really trying to do is den[y] access to abortion" (Dallas News, 10/26).

Similarly, Alexa Garcia-Ditta, a spokesperson for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said, "This is not about public health ... This is a continuation of the anti-abortion attacks that we've been seeing here in Texas, especially after this summer's Supreme Court ruling that some of our restrictions are unconstitutional."

Garcia-Ditta also criticized officials for a lack of transparency, noting that the proposal was not made through the state Legislature. "We don't want to see these rules put into place at all, but you know if they're going to go through this process, it needs to be more transparent," she said.

Peggy Morton, a Texas resident who joined about a dozen people in filing the comments, said, "I am fed up with politicians interfering with the autonomy of a woman's body." She added, "I just think it's absurd that young women are going through what they're having to go through" (Uchida, CBS Austin, 10/26).

Geraldine Mongold, another rally participant, also denounced the proposal. "It creates an undue burden on women who either have an abortion or a miscarriage," she said, adding, "It's a slippery slope, too" (Dallas Morning News, 10/26).