Fetal remain disposal debated in federal court

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Reproductive rights advocates are fighting a new rule in federal court that requires mothers who abort a child or suffer a miscarriage to bury or cremate the remains. Proponents say this is the more humane way to treat the unborn.

Inside the federal courthouse in Downtown Austin is a debate over dignity. Who deserves more-- a woman or a fetus either lost to miscarriage or aborted?

The state health department recently ruled in favor of the fetus requiring all clinics and hospitals to cremate or bury remains.

A coalition of reproductive rights advocates filed a lawsuit now being heard by a judge.

Amy Hagstrom Miller is lead plaintiff.

"This is a time when many women have grief and have their families around them. It's a private time where the state should not be inserting one belief system into a woman's process,” said Hagstrom Miller.

Currently remains are incinerated and disposed of in landfills just like any other human tissue.

"We think that's totally uncontainable. We think that these abortion providers ought to allow the state of Texas to afford some measure of dignity to those unborn children who lose their lives to abortion and those children who lose their lives to miscarriage,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life.

The Catholic Church has volunteered to bury fetuses for free. A spokesperson testified Wednesday the church currently provides services for miscarried children.

Attorneys say not only is this an intrusive and unnecessary law, the state, even with the help of the catholic church, is not prepared to handle the volume of burials.

"This law applies to every miscarriage that occurs in the healthcare facility the State of Texas, every surgery for ectopic pregnancy, every abortion,” said David Brown, senior attorney Center for Reproductive Rights. “It's literally hundreds of thousands of procedures per year and there doesn't seem to be any realization of that on the part of so many people. So there's no plan in place to prepare for this radical change."

Judge Sam Sparks is expected to make a decision by January 27.