Pa. House approves legislation to mandate disposal of fetal remains

    The Pennsylvania House chamber. Image via Flickr Commons

    Despite a promised veto from Gov. Tom Wolf, the GOP-controlled state House again pushed through legislation that would mandate the disposal of fetal remains at health facilities.

    Lawmakers voted 118-83 on Wednesday to approve a bill that its prime sponsor Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, said gives parents the option to bury or cremate a fetus.

    “This is a bill that is intended to be compassionate, provide an option and help the healing process for all those that have suffered through this horrific tragedy of the loss of a child,” Ryan said.

    The proposed legislation, which was debated on the House floor for more than an hour, would mandate that all fetal remains are either cremated or buried by the parents or health care facility.

    House Democrats argued that the bill would mandate how women and their families mourn.

    Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, D-Delaware, was one of the dozens of female representatives who shared their experience with pregnancy and miscarriage. Sharing her story publicly for the first time, O’Mara explained how she and her husband used in vitro fertilization to become pregnant. 

    But after 12 injections, nine doctor visits, and two medical procedures, it took one phone call for O’Mara to go from “excited and hopeful” to “completely and utterly devastated” when her doctor said the pregnancy test came back negative.

    “Under this proposed legislation, had I learned that my pregnancy failed in the health facility, the facility would be mandated to force me to relive my loss by discussing the need for us to hold a ritual burial or cremation at a time when I already felt like a failure as a woman and as a wife,” O’Mara said. “I would be forced to relive that trauma not in a way that I decided, but in a way that 102 members of this chamber decided was appropriate.”

    If the bill becomes law, health facilities would be required to ask parents if they want to arrange a burial or cremation for a fetus. If the parents agree, families would be required to pay for the burial. If not, the facility would assume responsibility for disposal.

    The legislation, which has been introduced before, was sent to the GOP-controlled state Senate. Wolf has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

    The passage came one day after the House voted to approve a bill that would prohibit abortions after a fetal Down Syndrome diagnosis. 

    In a statement, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates called the bills “cruel and dangerous.”

    PPPA Interim Executive Director Signe Espinoza said the proposals are unconstitutional and aim to restrict access to safe reproductive health care.

    Espinoza added: “While anti-abortion legislators waste taxpayer time and money on attacking abortion access, we know that Pennsylvanians support abortion access, and we want to see our elected officials expanding and protecting access to healthcare.”

    Marley Parish
    A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.