Pa. House passes fetal remains bill with bipartisan backing

    Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, speaks at a Capitol press conference on property tax elimination on Tuesday, August 20, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

    The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has approved legislation requiring hospitals to either bury or cremate fetal remains after a miscarriage or death, unless the patient asks to handle their disposition on their own.

    Every Republican backed the bill, along with a smattering of Democrats, which passed on a 123-76 vote. 

    The bill was sponsored by Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, whose wife suffered a miscarriage in the late 1970’s. Speaking on the House floor, Ryan said he never had a chance to ask for the remains before the hospital disposed of them, sparking the bill.

    A memo for the bill also adds that the proposal is “substantially similar to Indiana legislation which was recently declared constitutional by the United State Supreme Court.”

    The bill’s passage comes on the heels of a Senate committee advancing a ban on abortion in case of an in utero diagnosis of Down Syndrome earlier in the day on Monday.

    The bill would apply to abortions, miscarriages, or any expulsion or extraction of an embryo or fetus, and require hospitals to fill out forms and provide for burial or cremation in the case of any “fetal death” after conception.

    Under existing law, the forms and burial are only required after 16 weeks of gestation. 

    The cost would be borne by the healthcare facility unless the patient “selects a location for the final disposition” of the remains.

    If hospital staff does not abide by the proposed law, they would be penalized with a fine of between $50 to $300 or up to 30 days in prison.

    Ryan said the bill expanded the choices of a family who lost a pregnancy to an early miscarriage, not restricted it.

    “We were already denied that [choice] by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania when they couldn’t handle their child,” Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, said on the floor.

    But Democratic lawmakers — some, such as Rep. Leanne Krurger, D-Delaware, who shared stories of their own miscarriages  — argued the opposite.

    After she suffered a miscarriage at eight-and-a-half weeks, Krueger said that she was given the choice to either have a procedure to clear out the remaining fetal tissue, or take medication at home.

    “I did not want to undergo another invasive procedure,” Kruger said on the floor. “I wanted to be surrounded by own family, not by a doctor’s office.”