Senate committee advances GOP fetal remains legislation

‘I vowed to give other people that option to grieve in a way that is best and most appropriate for them and their family and their faith traditions,’ Rep. Frank Ryan told the Senate committee

By: - December 14, 2021 4:44 pm

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)

An amended version of a Republican-penned bill requiring medical facilities to provide for the disposition of remains after a fetal death advanced out of a Senate committee Tuesday.

State Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, drafted the legislation after his wife had a midterm miscarriage and the hospital disposed of the remains. Ryan, who said he didn’t know how to comfort his wife for their loss, said they never had the option to ask for the remains and said most medical facilities do not inform a parent that they can request fetal remains.

“I vowed to give other people that option to grieve in a way that is best and most appropriate for them and their family and their faith traditions,” Ryan told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which voted 6-4 along party lines to send the bill to the full Senate.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has vowed to veto the legislation if it makes it to his desk.

Proposed as the Final Disposition of Fetal Remains Act, the bill would require health care facilities, including abortion providers, to arrange for either a burial or cremation after a miscarriage or abortion. Parents also could make arrangements and assume potential costs.

Ryan introduced a similar proposal, which passed with some bipartisan support from House lawmakers in 2019, but the bill never moved out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. After an emotional debate, the House approved the reintroduced legislation in June.

On Tuesday, Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Mercer, who chairs the Senate panel, offered an amendment to the proposal, which passed 6-4, to clarify that cremation or internment of fetal remains is not required — unless affirmatively requested by the parent or next of kin.

Philadelphia Democrat Sen. Art Haywood asked if Tuesday’s amendment implied that Ryan’s legislation required the burial or cremation before its introduction, a claim made by challenges in the House earlier this year. However, Brooks said the change aimed to avoid misunderstandings or varied interpretations.

“I think we saw a prime example with the election law where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that current state law, they interpreted it one way because it was silent [in] another way,” Brooks said. “For many of us, the statute was very clear, [and] yet, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said, ‘Well, it’s not really spelled out.’ So, I think that just from everything we’ve all been through that clarity is a good thing, and gray areas are not.”

Those opposed to the bill have described it as government overreach into private family and health matters.

Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware, who has experienced two miscarriages over two months in the last year, said a parent or couple already has the option to dispose of fetal remains, adding that people don’t need a bill to tell them how to grieve.

“Unless you can tell me why my cousin who got pregnant at the same time as I the second time around is still pregnant and I’m not — this offers me no closure. It offers me no support, and it just makes me angry,” Cappelletti said. “It makes me angry that we have to sit here and do this. It makes me angry that I have to share my trauma.”

Addressing Ryan, she added: “I am so sorry for what you and your wife went through. I didn’t get that far in my pregnancy, but I can only begin to imagine because of how I felt when I went through what I went through. But your bill doesn’t help me, and it doesn’t help so many of my constituents who have reached out to me about their fears about what this bill would do.”

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Marley Parish
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.

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