Texas' fetal remains rule only shames women

Photo by Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

On Dec. 19, Texas again will impose new rules to impede access to abortion. Adding to its long list of unnecessary and burdensome regulations, the state will now require medical facilities to bury or cremate fetal remains following an abortion or miscarriage, rather than follow existing governing guidelines.

This move places an additional barrier on women who seek to exercise their constitutional right and represents another attempt to shame and restrict access to abortion care — a medical procedure that is already heavily stigmatized. Additionally, the new rule will disproportionately affect low-income women of color, particularly Latinas.

Officials from the Texas Department of State Health Services argue the intent of the new rule is to "protect the public by preventing the spread of disease while also preserving the dignity of the unborn in a manner consistent with Texas laws." Contrary to these claims, these new regulations have nothing to do with the health and safety of patients. Instead, they are representative of the slew of recent attacks by anti-choice politicians to intrude on women's privacy and deter them from safely exercising their legal right to an abortion.

The fact that these rules apply only to the remains of miscarriages and abortions that take place within medical facilities is evidence enough that the health and safety of Texans is not the ultimate concern of proponents of the rule. Abortion is already one of the safest procedures, with fewer than 0.05 percent resulting in complications. Additionally, abortion providers in Texas already follow medical health and safety standards set by the state and by medical professional associations. These claims are boldfaced attempts at interfering with a woman's autonomy and decision-making regarding her own medical care.

Furthermore, supporters of the regulation claim the cost will be covered by insurance or be offset by getting rid of previous methods of disposal, but this doesn't assuage fears that the increased costs won't be passed onto patients. In a state that already carries the notable distinction of being the "uninsured capital of the United States," the idea that somehow insurance will take care of it is naive and insulting to its populace. The additional cost of funerary services for fetal remains — whether of cremation or burial — are estimated to represent a two- to fourfold increase in costs for abortion providers. It's reasonable to envision that a person who experiences a miscarriage at home will be dissuaded from seeking medical attention for fear of incurring the costs of meeting the demands of the new rule — the exact opposite of its intent.

In a "majority-minority" state where 39 percent of the total population is Latino — a community with a 31 percent uninsured rate — we can expect low-income Latinas and immigrant women to be disproportionately impacted by this unnecessary restriction. There are 2.5 million Latinas of reproductive age in Texas, and we know that Latinas are more than twice as likely to be uninsured.

This measure and those like it also ignore the actual desires and opinions of the Texas electorate. A 2014 poll on Texas Latino/a voters' attitudes on abortion conducted on behalf of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health indicates that a strong majority of Texas Latino/a voters — 78 percent — agree that a woman has a right to make her own personal decisions about abortion without politicians interfering, and 58 percent feel that the recent increased restrictions on abortion put in place in Texas are a step in the wrong direction. This finding mirrors the NLIRH's most recent national poll of Latino/a voters' attitudes on abortion, in which 65 percent said the trend in restrictions is going in the wrong direction.

These non-medically necessary burial rituals are offensive, insensitive and disrespectful of people and their right to private decision-making. They do nothing more than shame women who seek an abortion or those who experience a miscarriage of a wanted pregnancy, placing an undue emotional burden on an already difficult event. Ultimately, these policies are just another move in advancing an end goal of making abortion a de facto illegality, in the process treating women's reproductive rights as a battleground for anti-choice political agendas.

Nancy Cardenas

Associate director, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health