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“Fetal remains” rule blocked

Good.

U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks ruled Texas cannot require health providers to bury or cremate fetuses, delivering another blow to state leaders in the reproductive rights debate.

On Friday afternoon, Sparks wrote in his ruling that Texas Department of State Health Services’ fetal remains burial rule’s vagueness, undue burden and potential for irreparable harm were factors in his decision. He also wrote that the state had proposed the new rule “before the ink on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Whole Woman’s Health was dry.”

“The lack of clarity in the Amendments inviting such interpretation allows DSHS to exercise arbitrary, and potentially discriminatory, enforcement on an issue connected to abortion and therefore sensitive and hotly contested,” Sparks said.

[…]

During two public hearings, department leaders heard stories of abortions, miscarriages, and general grief over losing a baby. While anti-abortion groups argued that the rule was a means to bring human dignity to the fetuses, reproductive rights advocates said the rule was another way for Texas to punish women who chose an abortion, saying the cost of the burials would be passed on to patients, making abortions harder to obtain for low-income Texans.

During multi-day court hearings earlier this month, state attorneys said the rule was designed to provide aborted or miscarried fetuses a better resting place than a landfill. They also argued that there would be no cost for patients to worry about and only miniscule costs for providers. The state also said that there were multiple groups willing to help with costs.

But Center for Reproductive Rights lawyers argued the rule had no public health merits and no clear directions on how it would work for providers. Providers who testified noted it was unclear if they would be on the hook for fines and disciplinary action from Texas if the nonprofit groups mishandled the fetuses. They also said separating fetuses away from other medical waste would likely mean an uptick in costs for transportation and new disposal procedures.

Sparks expressed frustration throughout the court proceedings that neither side could provide a firm estimate of the costs of implementing the rule. He also, one point, agreed with Center for Reproductive Rights attorneys’ argument that there would be no public health benefits.

In his ruling, Sparks wrote that the department’s estimates don’t know “the true impact” of the rule and that their “simple math” is “unsupported by research and relies heavily on assumptions.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the order; the full order is here. Note that this is just an injunction pending the actual lawsuit to overturn the ruling. The injunction strongly suggests that Judge Sparks thinks the plaintiffs will prevail, but that matter has not been decided yet. Now a trial date will be set and we will proceed from there, while the state will pursue an appeal to rescind the injunction and allow the rule, which had been scheduled to take effect on Friday, to be put in place for the duration of the trial.

Republicans like Ken Paxton are predictably gnashing their teeth about this, but if this rule was so important for the sanctity of life and dignity of the mothers and whatever else, then why wasn’t it proposed earlier than last year in the immediate wake of the HB2 ruling? Rick Perry could have proposed this a decade or more ago. Greg Abbott could have proposed it in 2015. If it was so damn important, why did they wait so long? Who had even heard of such a thing before last year? The timing of the rule gives the show away. It deserves the fate it got from Judge Sparks. A press release from the Center for Reproductive Rights is here, and the Chron, the Statesman, the Current, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

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