ACT NOW Against Rules Requiring Embryonic & Fetal Tissue Burial

On Monday, the Texas Department of State Health Services published the final rules on fetal and embryonic tissue burial, which we know serve no medical benefit and do nothing but impose an undue burden on Texans seeking abortion care. Since this summer, tens of thousands of you have submitted comments, spoken out at hearings and rallied outside the state health agency to oppose these rules, but it’s clear that the agency isn’t listening to us, or the medical community for that matter.

There’s still more you can do to make your voice heard. Right now, you can:

  1. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Remember to keep it within the word limit. You can use the talking points below to help you.
  1. Write or call your state lawmaker to register your opposition to this rule and any legislation. This month, Rep. Byron Cook introduced House Bill 201, which is likely to move through the legislature next session. You can find out who represents you here and use the talking points below in crafting your message.
  1. If you are interested in speaking publicly sharing your personal experience with abortion or miscarriage, (to the media, in a legal brief, at a public hearing), please email Heather Busby ([email protected]rochoicetexas.org) with your contact info and we’ll discuss it further with you.
  2. Join our Legislative Action Team if you haven’t already! By signing up, you’ll get updates throughout the legislative session on other ways to get involved at the Capitol and in your local community. This week, we hosted our first Legislative Action Team call, which you can hear by clicking here.

Here are some talking points you can use in your letter to the editor or when writing or calling your lawmaker:

  • 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 to restrict access to abortion.
  • Health care providers like hospitals and abortion clinics already follow the state’s standards for the sanitary disposal of medical waste including embryonic tissue. Just like other health care providers, they work with licensed medical tissue removal professionals to ensure fetal tissue is handled respectfully and safely and in accordance with the law. 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.
  • These requirements apply to miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies and make it harder for a family’s ability to provide tissue samples for pathological examination and testing. This testing is important to get a more accurate diagnosis, which may help them successfully carry future pregnancies to term.
  • The rules unduly burden both abortion patients and providers without any discernable, proven medical benefit, which violates the U.S Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
  • Every patient makes the decision to have an abortion for their own reasons based on their own lived experience.  We should focus on making sure that they are supported and respected in their decision and in their access to safe healthcare.
  • I ask that you remove politics from public health and listen to input from providers, medical practitioners and public health professionals rather than politicians when deciding public health policy.
  • Please rescind these rules or make reasonable adjustments to them – such as allowing incineration without burial – that provide for a humane and sanitary solution without unduly burdening patients and providers.

Statement: Fetal Tissue Burial Rules Provide No Public Health Benefit

Today, the Texas Department of State Health Services held a second public hearing on proposed rules that would require embryonic and fetal tissue to be buried or cremated following an abortion, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.

Blake Rocap, legislative counsel at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, issued the following statement–

“Since July, Texans have shown through their outpouring of public comments and petition signatures that they will not stand for politically motivated attacks on reproductive health care. The Department of State Health Services did not take seriously, and refuses to respond to, the concerns of thousands of Texans who oppose this rule and the doctors and hospitals who must comply with it.

This rule provides no public health benefit, just like the state’s abortion restrictions that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in June.

This is another in a long line of politically motivated attacks that make it harder for Texans to access abortion.  Instead of passing laws that force government intrusion on a patient’s access to health care, we should focus on making sure that patients are supported and respected and empowered in their health care decision.”

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There has not yet been a date set for the rules to go into effect.

During the second 30-day public comment period that ended on October 31, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and Planned Parenthood Texas Votes submitted comments on behalf of more than 5,000 Texans opposing these rules.

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.

Signed,
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.

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!