U.S. judge extends order halting Texas fetal remains regulation

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 04, 2017 6:13 PM

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday extended until Jan. 27 a restraining order that halted a new Texas regulation requiring fetal tissue remains to be buried or cremated to allow for more time to make a ruling.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks issued the ruling after hearing two days of testimony this week on the regulation that Texas contends is aimed at maintaining the highest standards of human dignity. Abortion rights groups contend it is an unnecessary and vague regulation aimed at making abortions more arduous and expensive.

Sparks last month put the regulation on hold before it was to take effect on Dec. 19. He had previously issued a temporary restraining order to delay enactment until at least Jan. 6.

Sparks asked the state how the existing law on the disposal of human remains and dead human bodies would mesh with the proposed regulation and was told by a lawyer for the state that fetal tissue is not considered human remains for the purpose of the statute.

"Texas values the dignity of the remains of the unborn and believes that fetal tissue should be disposed of properly and humanely," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement. He said he is confident the state will prevail.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, a plaintiff in the case and president of Whole Woman's Health, which runs three facilities in Texas, testified that she believes the regulation would increase costs and could increase the stigma of an abortion.

"I don't understand how this puts women's health and safety forward," she said in court.

The Texas limitations would be more stringent than regulations in almost every other state, which allow aborted fetal tissue to be disposed of the same as other human tissue, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group.

The regulation change in Texas was crafted shortly after the state suffered a stinging defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court last year when the justices struck down separate abortion restrictions backed by the state's Republican leaders.

Writing for the court, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said the measures imposing strict regulations on doctors and facilities constituted an undue burden on abortion access and violated the U.S. Constitution.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Tom Brown and Leslie Adler)