Judge halts Texas law requiring burial or cremation of fetal tissue

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday placed a temporary halt on a Texas law requiring abortion providers to dispose of aborted fetal tissue through burial or cremation, saying the state has not shown how the measure has a public health purpose.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra in Texas also said the law approved last year by the Republican-controlled legislature may violate constitutional due-process provisions.

“No health and safety purpose has been articulated despite (the regulation’s) presence in the Texas Health and Safety Code,” Ezra wrote, adding the halt was to remain in place until a decision from a forthcoming federal bench trial.

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton said the law on fetal remains was meant to honor the dignity of the unborn and his office will battle in court to have the requirements enacted.

“My office will continue to fight to uphold the constitutionality of the new law, which simply prevents fetal remains from being treated as medical waste,” Paxton said in a statement.

Abortion rights providers have said the regulation would require the tissue to be treated differently than other human tissue, add another stigma to abortion and increase costs.

“Texans deserve better and today we got that. The legislature’s relentless attacks on access to reproductive health care prevent women from getting the care that they need,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, a plaintiff in the case.

Texas began crafting regulations on fetal tissue disposal in 2016, shortly after it suffered a stinging defeat in the U.S. Supreme Court. The court struck down separate abortion restrictions, which were backed by the state’s Republican leaders, regarding doctors and facilities.

The Texas fetal tissue requirements were more stringent than regulations in almost every other state, which typically allow aborted fetal tissue to be disposed of in a similar manner as other human tissue, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which monitors reproductive health laws.

In June 2017, Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed new abortion restrictions into law that included the fetal tissue disposal requirements and a ban on the most common method of second-trimester abortions.

In November, a different federal judge in Texas struck down the second-trimester abortion procedure ban, after plaintiffs argued the method was safe, legal and necessary for women’s health.

Abortion restrictions in Texas, the most populous Republican-controlled state, have often been fiercely defended by the state’s lawyers and copied by other socially conservative states.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Richard Chang and Sandra Maler