Anti-abortion lawmakers advance bill to mandate burial, cremation of fetal remains in Pa.

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)

A state House committee has advanced a bill that requires healthcare facilities in Pennsylvania to bury or cremate fetal remains following an abortion or miscarriage.

On a party-line vote Tuesday, the House Health Committee approved the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon. The legislation is modeled on a similar law in Indiana the U.S. Supreme Court upheld earlier this year. 

“This bill doesn’t do anything to someone who isn’t concerned,” Ryan told the committee. Instead, the legislation is aimed at families recovering from a miscarriage “who need closure.”

The legislation would apply to abortions, miscarriages, or any expulsion or extraction of an embryo or fetus. The cost would be borne by the healthcare facility unless the patient “selects a location for the final disposition” of the remains.

Ryan, a former hospital board member, said that facilities are likely already handling disposal of remains without passing the cost onto patients.

In Indiana, however, Planned Parenthood said that state’s fetal remains law would likely increase the cost of abortions. 

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.

Under existing law, a fetal death is defined as occurring after 16 weeks of gestation. 

The proposal would change the definition to “a product of conception.” Democrats noted that the change would in theory encompass a fertilized ovum that does not implant in the uterus and is expelled during menstruation. 

Ryan said the bill is not intended to impact the donation of fetal tissue for research, although there was confusion about how the process would work under the bill during Tuesday’s meeting.

Republicans in the Legislature have repeatedly attempted to restrict abortion access over the objections of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. 

Two freshmen lawmakers — Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, and Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton — recently introduced legislation that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. 

Health Committee Chairwoman Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, said she is still looking to move the heartbeat bill out of her committee “possibly before the end of the year.”

Wolf has vowed to veto that measure.

“Let me be clear: I will veto any abortion ban that is put on my desk,” Wolf said in an Oct. 21 statement. “The latest bill, a six-week abortion ban, defies all practical understanding of modern women’s health care. These policies run counter to the notion of individual freedom and lack a sound scientific basis. Further, as we have seen in other states, these policies are detrimental to efforts to attract and retain businesses, entrepreneurs and workers.”

Wolf, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, previously vetoed a 20-week abortion ban. 

In a statement, Ashley Lenker White, the executive director of Planned Parenthood PA Advocates, the political wing of the women’s health organization, said Ryan’s bill was “intended to harass health-care providers as well as shame women seeking abortions. This is just another restriction being pushed by opponents of reproductive rights with the intention to chip away and ultimately eliminate access to safe, legal abortion care in Pennsylvania.”

“Moreover, this bill seriously threatens women’s privacy and confidentiality by requiring the state to issue death certificates as well as burial or cremation permits for every abortion, regardless of the woman’s wishes or how early in the pregnancy the abortion occurs,” Lenker White said. “Since such documents can be made public, a woman who has decided to have an abortion could have her personal information exposed.”