U.S. News

U.S. judge halts Texas rules on fetal tissue disposal

(This version of the story corrects eighth paragraph to show that women who miscarry at home were exempted from the rules)

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday temporarily halted until Jan. 6 a Texas regulation that would require abortion providers to dispose of aborted fetal tissue through burial or cremation, court documents showed.

The regulation, which was supposed to go into effect on Dec. 19, also would require hospitals and other medical facilities to bury or cremate miscarried fetuses. It is seen by women’s health providers as part of a nationwide agenda to place new restrictions on abortions.

Under the temporary restraining order issued in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Judge Sam Sparks will hold hearings on Jan. 3 and 4, according to electronic court filings.

“This restriction, just like the many before it, all across our nation, does not create any health benefit for women and is strictly designed to limit access to safe, quality abortion care,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive officer of Whole Woman’s Health, said in a statement.

State officials were not immediately available for comment.

Republicans opposed to abortion proposed new restrictions on the procedure in several states after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down some regulations in Texas.

At the time, the Supreme Court said provisions of the Texas law requiring abortion doctors to have difficult-to-obtain “admitting privileges” at local hospitals and requiring clinics to have costly hospital-grade facilities violated a woman’s right to an abortion.

Abortion rights providers in legal filings against the Texas fetal tissue measure said it “imposes a funeral ritual” on women who have a miscarriage or an abortion, whether they want it or not. Authorities later exempted women who miscarry at places such as their homes from the rules.

Abortion rights groups contend the regulations could impinge on funeral homes in the socially conservative state, which might face a backlash if they are perceived as being aligned with abortion providers.

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

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Chris Reese, Andrew Hay and Bernarrd Orr