Texas Officials Push Harmful Measure That Would Require Fetal Tissue to Be Buried or Cremated

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On July 1, at the urging of Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission published proposed rules that would require burial or cremation of embryonic and fetal tissue remains following an abortion or miscarriage. These rules dictate how healthcare facilities must dispose of tissue at all stages of pregnancy, with no exceptions for genetic testing, research or pathology and no consideration for best medical practices or patients’ wishes or religious beliefs. These rules have nothing to do with the safe practice of modern medicine, but instead are part of a nationwide effort to enact unnecessary regulations that restrict access to abortion.

The health agency could update these rules without making them a backdoor ban on abortion by holding public hearings, consulting with medical providers and writing rules that follow modern medicine. The addition of a non-medical ritual to current clinical practice only serves to further interfere with a patient’s autonomy and ability to make their own decisions about their medical care.

Every patient makes the decision to have an abortion for their own reasons based on their own experience. Instead of passing laws that further complicate a patient’s experience and force them to consider burial services or death certificates, we should focus on making sure that patients are supported and respected in their decision. Read more about why these rules are a problem here.

The public has until July 30 to comment on these rules, which are set to go into effect by September 1, 2016. Make your voice heard by sending an email to [email protected] with the subject line: “Comments on special waste from health care-related facilities.”

We encourage you to share your personal experience in your comments. Here is a sample letter you can send:

Dear Ms. Hughes,
The rules have nothing to do with the safe practice of modern medicine, but instead are part of a nationwide effort to enact unnecessary regulations to restrict access to abortion. Health care providers like hospitals and abortion clinics currently follow the state’s standards for the sanitary disposal of medical waste including embryonic and fetal tissue. The addition of non-medical ritual to current clinical practice only serves to further interfere with a patient’s autonomy and decision making in their own medical care.

Every patient makes the decision to have an abortion for their own reasons based on their own lived experience. Instead of passing laws that further complicate a patient’s experience and force them to consider burial services or death certificates, we should focus on making sure that patients are supported and respected in their decision.

Furthermore, families going through miscarriage or needing to terminate a pregnancy for medical reasons deserve the respect of having the option to have genetic testing performed on the embryonic and fetal tissue so they can successfully carry a healthy pregnancy to term in the future. Infants and children also benefit from medical research on embryonic and fetal tissue.

These rules also violate religious freedom. Not all faiths have the same tradition and ritual, and forcing a patient to violate the tenets of their faith to receive healthcare is unconscionable.

Finally, the regulations as published appear to require that a public death certificate be filed, violating patient privacy. The regulations turn what is currently a private matter–a medical procedure–into public record. This violates the patient’s constitutional right to privacy. Without a full opportunity to comment and receive feedback, healthcare facilities are left in limbo–not knowing if a death certificate will be required before cremation, or if these rules violate statutory dictates that families be allowed to take miscarried and stillborn fetuses home with them.

Any attempt to ban certain types of scientific research deserves to happen in the light of day,not through a rushed rulemaking process. Gov. Abbott should have the courage to rescind these rules.

The Agency should rescind these draft rules and not publish a final version for adoption until the Legislature can provide it with direct authority to do so.

Your name & address

On August 4 at 9 a.m., DSHS is holding a public hearing in Austin on these rules. Sign our petition to make your voice heard and tell state officials that you don’t support medically unnecessary regulations enacted to restrict abortion access. Your comments will be included in our testimony during the hearing. You can also RSVP here to attend the hearing in person.

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Join us for a celebration!

After our victory at the Supreme Court, we are thrilled to announce the date for this year’s Fall Celebration!

On September 13th at Ironwood Hall, we’re going to get together to celebrate our incredible win at the Supreme Court and the strength of our movement in Texas. This year’s event will feature two great champions for choice in Texas: Wendy Davis and Stephanie Toti, the lawyer who fought for Texans at the Supreme Court and won.

We hope you can join us for this exciting event, where Wendy and Stephanie will talk about the Supreme Court case and the future of the reproductive rights movement in Texas.

Our movement is strong, and we’re just getting stronger. Let’s come together to celebrate!

Sponsorships are available now. Be sure to sponsor soon to reserve your seats!


Republicans Vow to “Redouble” Efforts to End Abortion in Texas

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling was an incredible victory for Texans’ health and safety–and it doesn’t stop there. Not only does the decision mean that Texas abortion clinics can stay open, it has far-reaching impacts that effect people across the country. Following the decision, the Supreme Court declined challenges from Wisconsin and Mississippi that would have led to the implementation of similar restrictions in those states, protecting clinics and providers.

While this win is a turning point in the fight for reproductive freedom, it is also fueling anti-choice activists in their preparation for legislative session in January. Show your support for pro-choice policies with a donation today.

In a tweet, Governor Greg Abbott vowed to “redouble” his commitment to restricting abortion access.

And he isn’t alone. During a press conference in Houston, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told reporters, “We’re going to go through [the decision] line by line and see what it is that we can address in a way that a Supreme Court would approve.” Whatever the outcome of this, he assured them, “We will be all in.”

Prominent anti-choice activists echoed Patrick, saying that “this ruling will help us to focus on what our goal is,” moving forward.

They pledged to pass a procedural ban in the upcoming legislative session, which would disrupt providers’ ability to provide basic medical care should it succeed.

Building upon the Planned Parenthood witch-hunts, they plan to focus on “the state interest about fetal life.” Citing precedent from a Supreme Court ruling in 2007, it is clear that they believe that procedure bans and restrictions focused on “fetal life” will be harder to challenge.

And it isn’t just legislation. Speaking on their Facebook page, a representative from a statewide anti-choice group said, “We need our cultural conversation to be about the pre-born child, not about how many miles it takes to get to an abortion clinic.”

Anti-choice activists in Texas are doubling down on their efforts in Texas. They have a plan in place to shift not only state laws, but also conversations around abortion in Texas.

We can’t let this happen, but we can’t stop it without you. Can you donate today to support proactive, pro-choice policy at the Texas legislature?

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas is already leading the fight for reproductive freedom in Texas, and we aren’t going to let them steal this win. We are actively working to challenge abortion stigma in Texas, stigma fosters the environment that allows harmful abortion restrictions to flourish.

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What to do after the Supreme Court decision on House Bill 2

Not sure what’s going on with this case? Find a breakdown of what to expect here.

Update: VICTORY! House Bill 2 is gone. Here’s what the ruling means for Texans who need abortion care:

  1. Clinics will be able to continue operating, and possibly re-open, without having to make costly and unnecessary changes to their facilities

  2. Providers will no longer have to wait for admitting privileges in order to provide abortion care

  3. No more clinics will close due to House Bill 2

Read our statement here and read below for information about events happening around Texas today as well as a tele-town hall happening tomorrow.

As we wait for the Supreme Court to decide Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedtthe case challenging HB 2–we want  to make sure everyone is in the loop about happenings around the state on decision day and beyond.

We now know that the decision will be this Monday, 6/27. 

The Supreme Court convenes at 10 AM EST (so 9 AM CST and 8 AM MST for us Texans) and starts to release opinions. In other words, we’ll know in the morning on decision day and we’ll spread the word about what the opinion means as soon as we can. Whether we’re celebrating or mourning, we’ll be doing it together.

Here’s where to gather on decision day:

Austin – Scholz Garten, 5:30pm

Dallas – Dallas City Hall, 5:30pm

El Paso – El Paso County Courthouse, 12:00pm (noon)

Ft. Worth – Location to be announced (but you can still RSVP here), 5:30pm

Houston – Planned Parenthood Gulf coast, 5:30pm/R-Bar, 7:00pm

McAllen – Whole Woman’s Health McAllen, 6:00pm

San Antonio – Location to be announced, 4:30pm

Waco – Location to be announced (but you can still RSVP here), 5:30pm

The day after the decision comes out (Tuesday, June 28), we’ll have a telephone town hall that anyone can join featuring Wendy Davis, Ilyse Hogue, Amy Hagstrom Miller, Yamani Hernandez, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas and Nancy Northrup.

Sign up here to get invited to the tele-town hall and get the latest on the decision and events happening in the hours, days, weeks after the decision comes out!

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Shockingly, the Legislature invited actual scientists and doctors to a hearing about fetal tissue

You’re not going to believe what happened at the Texas State Capitol this week. The House State Affairs Committee held a hearing on fetal tissue research and invited actual doctors and researchers from public universities to testify – people who actually carry out the research that leads to things like polio vaccines and better health outcomes for premature infants and children with congenital health conditions. The Texas Senate held a similar hearing last summer and invited a parade of anti-abortion extremists to testify. Rather than a serious inquiry, that hearing was nothing more than a chance for politicians like Ken Paxton, accused felon, to espouse their anti-choice views.

Of course, anti-abortion proponents still got their moment in the sun and kicked off this week’s hearing with ridiculous lies about fetal tissue collection and abortion clinics, including a whopper about tissue being stored in the refrigerator next to Chinese food leftovers (an accusation Department of State Health services staff later refuted).

It’s the same rhetoric that created a space for these hearings in the first place. This hearing comes after the Center for Medical Progress created a fake biomedicine charity and broke the law to get videos that they heavily edited and used to disparage Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. In January, a Harris County grand jury investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast—an action Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pushed—concluded their investigations clearing the health care provider of any wrongdoing and instead indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the activists behind the smear campaign.  So basically, anti-abortion activists tried to make Planned Parenthood look bad, broke the law to do it and got caught. But the indictments haven’t stopped anti-abortion groups and politicians from continuing to use the videos to spread malicious lies about abortion providers, pushing for unnecessary and harmful legislation in their witch hunts.

After the two anti-abortion extremists set the stage with outrageous claims like “some would question whether or not an abortive mother has the capacity to consent,” it was time for some facts to enter the conversation from people who are actual doctors and scientists that base their beliefs in reality. First up: Dr. Raymond Greenberg, Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs at the University of Texas. Dr. Greenberg testified that fetal tissue is used in research to better understand how to care for infants facing serious health issues, including infants who are born prematurely and infants who have congenital heart problems. In other words, fetal tissue research leads to advancements in medicine that improve babies’ health and in some cases, is the only viable approach in research to treat sick babies – meaning actual born children benefit from this research.

Dr. Greenberg also refuted the misconception that abortion clinics profit off fetal tissue research. The sale of tissue is illegal, but clinics receive reimbursements for costs associated with transport and storage. Dr. Greenberg testified that he’d seen reimbursement amounts never more than a couple hundred dollars, a relatively low amount compared to other medical costs, and it’s important to note that Texas abortion clinics are not even participating in fetal tissue research. Planned Parenthood has said it has not done this since 2010. The issue of profit motive is a nonstarter (although it’s a talking point that the anti-choice movement loves to peddle over and over and over again).

Next up, representatives from the Department of State Health Services: Commissioner John Hellerstedt and Kathy Perkins, assistant commissioner for regulatory services. Perkins testified about the random inspections at abortion clinics and that issues found in abortion clinics do not stand out among state inspections of other health care facilities, directly contradicting some of the anti-abortion extremists’ wild accusations. She assured the panel that they had found no incidents of Chinese food leftovers sitting alongside fetal tissue in refrigerators and, in fact, there was only one administrative violation at an abortion clinic in 2015.

While it’s frustrating that lies about abortion and fetal tissue donation are still getting airtime, it was refreshing to see a hearing primarily comprised of experts and doctors. Chairman Byron Cook’s closing suggestion that the committee look into outlawing using fetal tissue from elective abortions for research gives a glimpse at what we can expect to see at the Texas Legislature next session. The suggestion is troubling, but NARAL Pro-Choice Texas will be there to fight back against any attacks on abortion care and we hope you’ll be there with us.

Want to help us hold Texas lawmakers accountable and make reproductive health care more accessible? Join our Legislative Action Team!