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U.S. district judge delays ruling on Texas' fetal burial rule

The ruling on the controversial fetal burial rule has been delayed until later this month after the U.S. district judge who issued a temporary restraining order last month to keep the rule from going into effect, extended the order until Jan. 27.

As the Houston Chronicle reports, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks delayed his ruling on Wednesday after calling the rule requiring burial of embryonic and fetal tissue, which was to go into effect last month, as “political” and without “any benefit to all.”

The controversial rule requires that remains from abortions and miscarriages be buried or cremated, regardless of gestation and without the birth mother’s consent.

Sparks said the new rule lacked any real health benefit, after hearing two days of testimony about the potential costs, ramifications and logistics that would be involved in implementing it.

He also expressed concern about whether access to abortion would be hindered by the rule.

As the Houston Chronicle reported last month, the Center for Reproductive Rights sued the state to block the rule on behalf of several abortion providers arguing that requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains would decrease access to abortion by driving up the cost.

Testimony this week shed some light on what the rule would entail. To handle the tissue, abortion providers, health centers and laboratories would likely need to buy additional freezers to store the remains for weeks or months before the tissue could be transported to a crematorium or cemetery.

The executive director of the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops said its 15 dioceses across the state are willing to provide cemetery space and burials for fetal remains in wooden boxes, possibly stacked atop each other, in unmarked graves.

The services would be provided free of charge, executive director Jennifer Carr Allmon said, but health clinics would be responsible for transporting the remains to the cemetery or funeral home.

State health officials have said the rule was intended as a public health measure to help prevent diseases from spreading and according to the Houston Chronicle, envisioned Texas’ abortion providers burying the remains in a single mass grave, allowing them to pool their resources, which would reduce the cost to less than $2 per abortion.

Remains from abortions and miscarriages are currently treated as medical waste and incinerated, buried or disposed of in a sanitary landfill, or they are ground up and washed down a sanitary sewer.

Sparks plans to rule on the case the week of Jan. 23.