Proposed fetal burial rules play politics with Texans’ health

Health care providers, reproductive rights activists and anti-abortion groups attended a hearing on a proposed state rule that would require the cremation or burial of fetal remains. Photo by Qiling Wang/The Texas Tribune

This week, as we commemorate the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks has delayed the state’s recently proposed Texas fetal tissue regulations while he decides whether those rules are unconstitutional.

This is great news. The regulations are yet another example of a poorly masked attempt to limit Texans’ Constitutional right to access abortion. Thanks to protections secured under Roe v. Wade, Texans continue to be protected from attempts to prohibit and shame abortion care like the proposed fetal tissue rules.

While the case’s outcome is promising, it’s disgraceful that anti-choice Texas lawmakers and government officials such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton continue to waste taxpayer dollars on regulations that do not promote the health and safety of Texans. Rather, these proposed fetal tissue rules and other proposals like them are a callous attempt by politicians to use women’s health to score political points.

These attempts to take away Texans’ decisions and to shame people who need abortion care are fiscally irresponsible, cruel, and deeply anti-Texan.

The proposed fetal tissue laws meet no real need and serve no legitimate purpose — and government officials knew that. That’s part of why they made the rules so vague. Expert testimony showed that the proposed rules did nothing to further public health and safety and didn’t even adequately define the standards they created.

The vagueness exposes that lawmakers never really wanted abortion and reproductive healthcare providers to be able to follow the proposed rules in the first place. Texas lawmakers hoped to target, punish, and force the closure of abortion and reproductive healthcare clinics when said clinics inevitably couldn’t comply.

It’s also possible that this was all a publicity stunt — that politicians who pushed for these rules may have known they were unconstitutional, and just wanted another public legal battle they could use to their advantage.

Unfortunately, whether a stunt or an ill-considered attack on reproductive health (or both), taxpayers are footing the bill. The Texas Tribune reported that the Abbott administration spent over $1 million in taxpayer dollars defending its unconstitutional anti-abortion law, House Bill 2, at the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Texas could potentially owe $4.5 million in additional legal fees, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. These officeholders are entirely too cavalier with taxpayers’ money when it comes to making themselves appear anti-choice.

If Abbott respected Texans, he would stop proposing laws and regulations that shame and punish people who need abortions and stop wasting tax dollars on pointless legal fights. Young Texans like myself would much rather Texas tax dollars be used to address the highest maternal mortality rate of any state in the nation. We want state government to help Texans find affordable, non-discriminatory health coverage. This is an urgent need, considering that Texas has the highest number of uninsured individuals in the nation.

Parents, women, families, and children suffer when insurance is unaffordable and inaccessible, when clinics are inaccessible or closed, and when prenatal care, abortion care, birth control and childcare are privileges reserved for the wealthy few and not rights guaranteed to all Texans.

Instead of passing new laws to push abortion out of reach, and then defending those harmful laws in court, Texas lawmakers should address the many real problems Texans face every day. They could help the children who die as a result of abuse after the state’s child protective services program fails them, as the Austin-American Statesman reported. They could find ways to help low-income families that struggle to afford dignified burial of their loved ones.

They could work to improve access to the full range of reproductive care, including maternity care, contraception and abortion. This would help people prevent unintended pregnancies, have safe and healthy pregnancies and get the care they need.

Unfortunately for the majority of Texans — brown, queer, trans, female, poor, and those undocumented fighting to be legally recognized even though they are living on land that was forcibly taken from their past generations — there seems to be little interest from our lawmakers in creating a future where all our families can thrive.

I’m glad that Roe v. Wade still stands and that the courts appear ready to yet again block Texas politicians from forcing their extreme agenda on women and families in our state.

We deserve so much more. We shouldn’t have to spend all our time and resources fighting harmful new laws and taking the state to court. We should be working together to create a positive, proactive policy agenda that will protect and advance the health of all Texans, and make affordable care and insurance available them. That’s the vision I’m going to keep hoping and fighting for.