Over the past few years, the Texas state government has carefully cultivated a reputation of unbridled hostility towards women's reproductive rights. After multiple attempts at shuttering clinics that provide safe, legal abortions to women that ended in a Supreme Court strikedown this summer, the state's Republican lawmakers continued the march to limit abortion access by introducing the next round of anti-abortion bills to be considered in the next legislative session. And on Monday, Texas health officials put the finishing touches to new rules that would require women who have abortions to bury or cremate their fetal tissue.
Set to take effect on Dec. 17, the rules dictate that healthcare facilities, including hospitals and abortion clinics, are prohibited from disposing of fetal remains. Gov. Greg Abbott who approved the rules, alleged that it was in the "protection of the health and safety" of Texans. The state's Health and Human Services noted that miscarriages or abortions that take place at home are exempt from the rules, The Washington Post reported.
The announcement sparked fierce responses from reproductive rights advocates and women in Texas and beyond. Some say it would make it even more difficult for women to get safe, legal abortions in a state where access to it is already so scarce, thanks to the barrage of anti-abortion legislation lawmakers have successfully passed. Many expressed disbelief at the draconian measure, calling it "disgusting" and "heartless."
Calling them "medically unnecessary restrictions," NARAL spokesperson James Owens told A Plus these new rules are not so much about protecting public health and safety, as Texas officials claim. "[The rules] clearly intend to intimidate women from seeking abortion healthcare and to place further roadblocks in the way of doctors providing reproductive health care to women," he added.
"I think this is an extension of a decades-long push by anti-choice forces to limit access to abortion, to intimidate women from seeking abortion care, to mislead the public about the nature of reproductive healthcare and to use medically unsound and in some cases, medically discredited rationale to promote abortion restrictions."
Others noted that the cost of burial or cremation for the fetal tissue may raise the cost of abortions, a factor that disproportionately affects lower-income women.
David Brown, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, criticized the new rules. Brown told The Texas Tribune that it was "an unnecessary burden and an intrusion" on a woman's personal beliefs. "These new restrictions reveal the callous indifference that Texas politicians have toward women," he added.
Unfortunately, Texas isn't the only state to impose unnecessary rules on women who have abortions. Earlier this year, then-Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a bill that required a cremation or burial for a fetus after an abortion. Other states that have some form of requirement for "final resting places for fetuses" include Arkansas and Georgia, and states like Ohio, South Carolina and Mississippi are considering it.
The new rules in Texas are likely to be taken to court by the Center for Reproductive Rights, reported The Texas Tribune.
While women's reproductive rights will likely come under heavy assault in the coming years, women and advocates have been gearing up for the fight by donating their money and time to ensure the white men voting on these issues in Capitol Hill know what they're up against.
It seems improbable that president-elect Donald Trump's administration will be friendly towards the pro-choice movement. As anti-abortion advocates enter the White House, Owens said that one of NARAL's chief efforts will be to "combat misinformation" about abortion access.
"We're under no delusions about how hard this fight is going to be," he said. "But that's why we're stepping up. It's the job of the pro-choice movement to call out abortion restrictions like this when we see them, to inform the public and lawmakers, and to keep up the drumbeat to continue to defend our reproductive freedoms that are protected in the U.S. constitution."
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