Oct. 27, 2016 – The Center for Reproductive Rights today denounced the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) for ignoring thousands of public comments expressing concern over the state’s latest politically motivated attempt to restrict a woman’s right to access safe and legal abortion by requiring mandatory burial or cremation of embryonic and fetal tissue that results from abortions or miscarriages.
DSHS recently released a second draft of those regulations that was substantially unchanged from the original version put forth in July–despite the fact that the state received more than 12,000 public comments that largely opposed the new restrictions. In new comments submitted to DSHS today, the Center criticized the state for failing to address concerns raised by medical organizations, legal experts and others who argue that these unconstitutional new restrictions offer no public health or safety benefit and serve only to increase both the cost of reproductive healthcare services and the shame and stigma surrounding abortion and pregnancy loss.
The restrictions would force healthcare providers serving women who seek abortion, treatment for miscarriage, or removal of an ectopic pregnancy to bury or cremate the embryo or fetal tissue resulting from these procedures, regardless of the woman’s personal wishes or religious beliefs.The proposed regulations could take effect as early as November 21st.
In its comments, the Center for Reproductive Rights argues that the proposed regulations – first submitted just four days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt decision – are in direct defiance of the high court’s ruling, which held that restrictions on legal abortion cannot impose burdens on a woman’s right to access abortion care without providing any legitimate benefit.
“These restrictions are yet another unwise, unjustified and blatantly unconstitutional attempt by Texas policymakers to force their personal beliefs on the health care decisions of Texas women,” said Amanda Allen, Senior State Legislative Counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “By ignoring the serious concerns raised by medical and legal experts, the state has shown that the public feedback process–like the law itself–is a sham.”
The Center notes that the only new language DSHS has added in response to skepticism over whether these regulations are necessary to protect health and safety includes the claim that the protocols will “continue to be limited to methods that prevent the spread of disease” – thereby implying that existing methods are already effective.
As noted in the Center’s comments: “By providing this nonsensical elaboration, and nothing more, DSHS squandered an opportunity to present credible scientific or medical evidence supporting the justification for the proposed amendments, pursuant to the applicable constitutional standard.”
The Center also criticizes DSHS for evading serious concerns over the burdens associated with cremation and burial of embryonic and fetal tissue by alleging that “private parties” had offered to facilitate compliance–a claim apparently based on a single comment from a religiously affiliated cemetery that does not actually offer to provide cremation services or waive burial service fees.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has made clear to Texas officials that it is prepared to take further legal action to ensure that Texas women can continue to access abortion and other reproductive healthcare without politically motivated interference. The possibility of new litigation comes as Texas faces a $4.5 million legal bill over its defense of the sham clinic shutdown laws struck down by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.