Texas lays to rest unequal treatment of aborted babies

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

This month, the Texas Department of State Health Services took public comments on a new proposed rule that will preserve the right of the youngest Texans to be treated with dignity by requiring fetal remains from abortions and miscarriages to be buried or cremated.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission introduced the rule in July as part of Gov. Greg Abbott's Life Initiative "to protect the unborn and prevent the sale of baby body parts." This rule in particular is designed to "enhance protection of the health and safety of the public," according to Renee Clack, director of the health care quality section at the Department of State Health Services.

Moreover, as Abbott put it, "it is imperative to establish higher standards that reflect our respect for the sanctity of life ... I don't believe human and fetal remains should be treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills." Indeed, we have all become well acquainted with the horrors of what happens to babies' bodies after they have been aborted.

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, sadly, does not share the desire of Abbott and others to respect all human beings. Blake Rocap, a legislative counsel for the organization, claimed that the rule "continues to treat embryonic and fetal tissue as a separate category of medical waste, a distinction with no basis in science."

Scientists beg to differ. A coalition of doctors at the Medical College of Wisconsin has written on the subject, asserting that human embryos and fetuses have "dignity as human beings [and] a right to the same respect owed to every person, regardless of developmental stage."

David Prentice, vice president and director of research at the Charlotte Lozier Institute and an advisory board member for the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center, confirms that research using fetal tissue is "morally problematic" precisely because the fetus or embryo is a preborn child who is a separate and distinct human being, unlike mere tissue.

And even researchers who wish to conduct research using fetal tissue, the subject of increased controversy and scrutiny in the last year as the public has been made aware of how that tissue is obtained, disagree with Rocap's assessment, calling fetal tissue unique and listing myriad reasons why it is distinct — even "dramatically different" — from any other type of tissue.

No one credible is saying that fetal tissue is the same as other types of tissue.

Rocap has also claimed "there is no public health benefit to requiring stricter disposal methods of one type of tissue over another." However, the natural law makes clear that every human being has inherent and inalienable dignity; we are all bettered when that feature of our common humanity is affirmed in the law and in our practices. Just as we treat the bodies of adults and children with respect and care when they pass away, so too must we treat the bodies of unborn children.

Abbott is right to call us to a "higher standard" than steaming these unborn children and leaving them in landfills with our trash. A hospital decontamination/steam sterilization facility is no place for the body of an unborn child to be processed and dumped as medical waste. We will come to see that Texas is on the right side of history in its efforts.

This rule, once enacted, will hold businesses accountable for the fetal tissue in their possession and will only apply to tissue in hospitals or other facilities. Any costs associated with the rule will be offset by what is currently being spent on "transportation, storage, incineration, steam disinfection and/or landfill disposal," according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Abbott hopes the Legislature will introduce a bill in the upcoming session that will convert the rule into state law. That would be the right and decent thing to do for the youngest members of the human family.

Jodie Laubenberg

State representative, R-Parker

Catherine Glenn Foster

Associate scholar, Charlotte Lozier Institute