Summit County senators vote in favor of a ‘misunderstood’ fetal remains bill
Proponents of a bill in the Statehouse that would regulate how fetal remains are treated say it gives women choice and adds dignity to a process they say has been lacking.
Opponents say it’s a choice women don’t need and would add an intrusive layer of regulation between a woman and her doctor at a very personal time.
S.B. 67 seeks to regulate how fetal remains from abortions and miscarriages are disposed of by requiring the mother or parents to choose whether to have the remains buried or cremated, or to leave the decision to the health care provider.
It does not regulate miscarriages that happen at home, but would give women whose abortions are completed at home the option of bringing remains to a health care facility to have them buried or cremated. It also bans disposing fetal remains with other medical waste and adds provisions to ease traveling between states with fetal remains.
Both Summit County senators voted to pass the bill out of the Health and Human Services Committee. It succeeded on a 4-2 vote Friday, with four male Republicans in support and two female Democrats in opposition.
Sens. Winterton and Christensen, whose districts cover Summit County, said the bill is misunderstood and that they supported it because it would increase dignity for the unborn and add choice for women.
“To be right honest, it does not change anything other than give the parents, the mother the right to choose,” Winterton said. “Right now, they don’t have that choice. That’s all this bill does.”
Christensen added that the committee heard testimony from multiple women who had miscarriages and who were saddened to find out the remains had been disposed of as medical waste.
Karrie Galloway, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Utah, said that women have that choice now, however, and that she knows of many occasions when women have requested to handle the remains as they wished. State law requires remains from an abortion go to a pathology lab, and Galloway said her organization has helped make arrangements for those remains to later be returned to the woman many times.
Galloway said ensuring women are informed they have a choice in how to dispose of the remains of a miscarriage or abortion could be accomplished more simply than what S.B. 67 calls for.
“This isn’t something that needs a law,” Galloway said. “If there are health care providers who are misinformed about a woman’s options, there could be an administrative rule having the (Utah Department of Health) educate health care providers.”
Some testified to the committee that forcing a woman to sign a form indicating preference between cremation and burial could retraumatize the woman at an already fraught time.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, said there is nothing in the bill requiring the woman to sign the form at that moment, and that the discussion could happen before a miscarriage or abortion occurs.
He said the bill was modeled on similar legislation passed in Indiana that was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
His decision to run the bill, he said, was informed by an experience he had in 2012 when a friend had a miscarriage while visiting Salt Lake City.
“That tender little body was viewed under the law as medical waste,” he said.
He worked to allow her to transport the remains to her home state where she could dispose of them as she wished.
He added that protecting the unborn is a personal issue for him.
“In Utah, we’re on the cutting edge of the pro-life movement,” he said, adding that some on the left are opposed to the bill because it humanizes unborn fetuses.
“We’ve had testimony in committee that an unborn child is nothing more than a mass of tissue. Until it is born, it is nothing more than a mass of tissue. I respectfully disagree with that. … We’re talking about the life of another individual. Not talking about a woman’s body, we’re talking about disposing of a body of a child.”
Galloway questioned whether the bill was merely one more piece in what she called a long line of anti-choice legislation in the state.
“Bramble has always been a staunch legislator who has been creative in adding regulations to women’s reproductive health,” Galloway said. “It may be a lot of people want to have laws that they can say, ‘I passed an anti-choice law.’ I’m not going to say that that’s what this is, but, you know, it’s hard to look at things differently when you look at the pattern.”
In 2016, Bramble sponsored a bill requiring anaesthesia be given to a fetus older than 20 gestational weeks. The bill, which was signed into law, said “an unborn child who is at least 20 weeks gestational age may be capable of experiencing pain during an abortion procedure.”
Utah has a 72-hour waiting period in most cases for an abortion to be performed, and women are required to be informed of things like exactly what the procedure does to the fetus and to hear a description of the fetus’s development.
Dr. Shawn Gurtcheff, the medical director of the Utah Fertility Center, testified against the bill and said that 90% of pregnancy losses are within nine weeks of the woman’s last menstruation, and that the bill would require “basically burying menstrual tissue.”
“One in four women in their lifetime will experience a miscarriage,” Gurtcheff said. “And what the bill did is try to legislate how they grieve and what happens after.”
As of Tuesday morning, the bill was scheduled for a second reading in the Senate.
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