NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Republicans are backing legislation that would require medical providers to cremate or bury fetal remains from surgical abortions over objections that doing so could stigmatize a legally available procedure.
The proposal is gaining traction inside the GOP-controlled General Assembly, where legislative panels in both the House and Senate advanced the measure on Wednesday. While Gov. Bill Lee hasn’t publicly weighed in on the bill, the Republican has repeatedly stressed his opposition to abortion. Lee signed off on one of the strictest abortion bans in the country last year. The law is currently blocked as it makes its way through court.
Supporters of the fetal-remains bill argue that it will protect human dignity. Opponents counter that it is another attempt to obstruct and spark shame over abortion.
“Tennessee code requires pets and animals to be disposed of by burial or cremation but there is no such law active in Tennessee for aborted fetal remains,” said Rep. Tim Rudd, a Republican from Murfreesboro. “I think it’s time for Tennessee to step up and give the same level of dignity given to a dead pet to a dead human being.”
According to the bill, medical providers must dispose of fetal remains from surgical abortions by cremation or burial and cover the costs of the disposal. The measure states that the pregnant woman “has a right to determine” the method and location for the final disposal of the fetal remains, but could choose not to exercise that right. Hospitals would be excluded under the proposed bill.
Abortion-rights advocates argue that health centers already treat fetal tissue with respect, and they say the bill is unnecessary.
“I do not think our government should be in the business of legislating whether to or how we should grieve,” said Max Carwile, a community organizer with Knoxville-based Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood. “It is pure government overreach to dictate how our patients find closure or heal.”
The language in the Tennessee proposal mirrors an Indiana law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019. In an unsigned opinion, the justices said the case did not involve limits on abortion rights.
Indiana was among the first states to pass fetal-remains laws, in 2016, after anti-abortion activists released undercover video of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the transfer of fetal tissue. The videos sparked anger from conservatives around the country, but investigations cleared the group of wrongdoing.
Since then, at least 10 other states have enacted similar requirements, though legal challenges persist. Earlier this week, a judge temporarily blocked enforcement of Ohio’s fetal-remains disposal law after agreeing that a lack of rules made complying unworkable for clinics.
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