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Texas bill requiring burial of fetal remains passes out of House committee

Texas hospitals and abortion clinics would have to bury or cremate fetal remains under a measure that passed out of a House committee on Tuesday.

House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, at a hearing on the disposal of fetal remains on March 8, 2017.

Texas hospitals and abortion clinics would have to bury or cremate fetal remains under a measure that passed out of a House committee on Tuesday. 

It's a rule that has its roots in Texas' fiery reproductive rights debate: While supporters argue the bill has nothing to do with abortion and is about "ensuring the dignity of the deceased," opponents say it's yet another way for the state to punish women who choose to legally terminate a pregnancy.

House Bill 35 by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, is the legislative counterpart to a Texas Department of State Health Services rule that was supposed to go into effect in December but was delayed when a federal judge blocked it in January. A Senate version of the bill passed the upper chamber in March. The House version now heads to the Calendars Committee, which could schedule it for a floor vote.  

Some hospitals already bury fetal remains; others dispose of them in "sanitary landfills," repositories for medical waste. Both measures would subject hospitals and clinics that don't bury or cremate fetal remains after an abortion or miscarriage to fines or the loss of their license.

“We believe Texas can do better than this," Cook said when introducing his measure on March 8. 

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said Cook's measure "has no positive public health impact for Texas women; this legislation places an undue burden on women seeking abortion care in Texas."

"Mandating a conversation about the burial of fetal remains is an unnecessary barrier that Texas should not be creating between a woman and her doctor," she added.

Cook has argued that the costs of the cremation or burial would not fall on women; his bill would create a registry of organizations that can help pay for it. The bill would also not apply to miscarriages that occur at home.

For groups such as Abolish Abortion Texas, West Texans for Life and the Abolitionist Society of Houston, the legislation doesn't go nearly far enough, since abortion remains legal.

"A pro-life bill would stop the murder instead of dictating how to bury the dead body," said Jim Baxa, president of West Texans for Life.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • What started as a state House committee hearing hearing on a bill that would require Texas hospitals to bury or cremate fetal remains turned into a heated debate over whether the proposal should be amended to abolish abortion completely.  

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