Texas health officials have adopted a new rule that would require burials after many abortions conducted in the state -- a decision that could have a profound effect on providers there.
The rule, which was submitted to the Texas secretary of state by the Texas Department of Health Services last Monday, changes the manner in which fetal tissue can be disposed of following an abortion at a clinic, hospital or other medical setting.
While previously the tissue was to be disposed of in the same matter as most other medical waste in a sanitary landfill, state health officials are now requiring fetal tissue to be interred, regardless of the gestational duration, if a woman has an abortion in those settings.
There are some exceptions and the original proposed language was clarified so that women who are having a miscarriage or an abortion in the home are exempt from burial or cremation requirements. Additionally a birth and death certificate will not be needed to dispose of tissue, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Health Services told ABC News.
Reproductive rights groups have pointed to the rule as another restriction that will likely deter women from getting an abortion in the state. The rule change was initially proposed in July shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Texas law that had added requirements for abortion clinics in the state, which led to many of them closing.
"This regulation is another blatant attempt to deceive and shame Texas women and block access to safe, legal abortion," Yvonne Gutierrez, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes said in a statement to ABC News. "Texas politicians are intent on interfering with it. These restrictions do not protect people’s health and safety -- just the opposite. Texans and the Supreme Court already saw through overtly political abortion restrictions that had nothing to do with women's health, and everything to do with a political agenda to ban abortion in this country."
Whole Women's Health, which was a plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the Texas law called HB2, said it would consider a lawsuit to stop the rule from taking effect.
"We see Texas’ profound disrespect of women’s health and dignity," Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of Whole Women's Health, told ABC News. "It’s stunning that it has no bounds. It has absolutely no added benefit to women. It’s an undue burden that doesn’t further women’s health in any way. It’s a disregard of our win at the Supreme Court level. You can’t put undue burden in women’s safe abortion services unless you can ensure that it benefits women, and this has no added benefit to women."
The rule change was implemented to "protect public health in a manner that is consonant with the State's respect for life and dignity of the unborn," according to a preamble released by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
The rules were submitted last Monday to the Texas Secretary of State and will be implemented by Dec. 19, according to a spokeswoman from the Texas Department of Health Services.
“Governor Abbott believes human and fetal remains should not be treated like medical waste, and the proposed rule changes affirms the value and dignity of all life," a spokesman for the governor told ABC News. "For the unborn, the mothers and the hospital and clinic staff, the governor believes it is imperative to establish higher standards that reflect our respect for the sanctity of life. Further, it is Governor Abbott’s hope that the legislature will consider legislation next session to enshrine the new rules into state law.”
The proposed rule change led to a large outcry with more than 35,000 people leaving comments about the proposed change and two public hearings. The comments were received by the HHS and some were paraphrased and answered in the preamble.
The Texas Medical Association and Texas Hospital Association also raised concerns in a public comment where they questioned who would pay for the "$1,500 to $4,000 cremation cost and the $7,000 to $10,000 funeral service fees," according to documents released by the Texas Department of Health Services.
Dr. Nina Suresh contributed to this story. She is a resident physician in pediatrics at New York- Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She is a resident in the ABC News Medical Unit.