By Laura Nunez
Abortion opponents are armed with new ammunition in the war against a woman’s right to control her own reproductive life. Referred to as fetus funeral legislation, new laws that require miscarried or aborted fetal tissue to be buried or cremated are becoming popular in states like Texas, Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio.
This surge in popularity comes almost a year after the Center for Medical Progress’s (CMP) release of heavily edited and misleading videos that portray Planned Parenthood as a diabolical operation to harvest fetal organs. In truth, the recorded Planned Parenthood representatives were discussing the legal practice of a patient’s option to donate fetal tissue to medical research. Even though congressional investigations found no evidence of wrongdoing, and a Texas grand jury indicted CMP Director David Daleiden and another CMP employee for tampering with government records, the damage had already been done. Conservative outrage had set the stage for fetus funeral legislation to rise to prominence, changing the conversation from one of women’s rights to one of unborn infants’ rights.
As of 2016, 28 states have introduced bills targeting the disposal of fetal remains. Nine of these bills have passed their respective legislature, with 5 in effect and 4 facing legal challenge. Indiana Governor and Vice President-elect Mike Pence signed a bill requiring all miscarried and aborted fetuses to be buried or cremated. The Ohio legislature introduced legislation to define “humane” disposition of fetal remains as burial or cremation. And, instead of going down the legislative route, the Texas Department of Health Services announced new regulations regarding the donation, sale, and disposition of fetal tissue suited and not suited for medical research. If this legislation were to go into effect, women would have to state in writing how a fetus is to be disposed of, after which it would be transported to a funeral home for cremation or burial.
But the proposed legislation raises a number of questions. Would funerals require a death certificate? What about the 23% of medication-induced abortions that occur outside of a hospital? What about the women who don’t know they’re pregnant until they miscarry? And who would shoulder the cost? In states like Texas, cremation can cost up to $4000 and a funeral up to $10,000. If abortion facilities are forced to pay, this could increase the price of the procedure, and in states like Texas and Indiana, insurance and public funds do not cover abortion.
Pro-choice advocates fear that funeral legislation will place undue emotional and financial obstacles on women seeking access to a constitutionally protected right. Jennifer Dalven, Director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, believes that the new laws “shame and stigmatize women who have decided to have abortions.” The Texas Association of Obstetricians and gynecologists calls the regulations a “cruel” punishment on women already facing the “grief and trauma” of losing a wanted pregnancy. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights have filed lawsuits in Louisiana, Indiana, and Texas that have temporarily prevented new laws and regulations from going into effect.
Supporters of the legislation argue for the “dignity and respect” of unborn infants, contending that fetuses should not be disposed of like medical waste. But is the argument for respect and dignity a disguised attempt at subjecting abortion clinics to such harsh and costly restrictions that they are forced to close their doors? And what about the dignity of the living woman?
While politicians behind these laws profess respect as it relates to fetuses, they hardly express any concern about the challenges women face in exercising authority over their own reproductive healthcare.