On November 19th, a bill passed the Pennsylvania House requiring a burial for all “fetal remains” from “fertilization until expulsion or extraction from its mother”. The bill is modeled after Indiana’s fetal remains bill which was upheld by the Supreme Court in March. The goal of these bills is to create a dichotomy and contradiction in abortion law. Indiana Right to Life President and CEO Mike Fichter stated:
“On one hand we recognize aborted children have dignity and are not garbage, on the other hand the court refuses the inherent, God-given dignity of each unborn child by recognizing their civil rights. This once again places Roe (v. Wade) on a collision course with itself.”
The bill carries a fine of $50 to $300 or up to 30 days in prison for health care providers who fail to dispose of “fetal” remains in the designated manner. Sine arranging a human burial in Pennsylvania requires a death certificate, this means that death certificates will need to be provided for all fetal remains.
There’s just one problem: this bill is complete medical nonsense.
Although the bill calls itself the “Final Disposition of Fetal Remains Act”, this is a misnomer. A fetus is not actually developed until about the 8th week of pregnancy and involves implantation into the uterine wall and many weeks of development to the point of resembling a basic human figure. Yet, the Pennsylvania law wording specifically applies to any and all fertilized eggs, even eggs that never implant.
So, if you happen to get your period in a Pennsylvania doctor’s office, you may be required to get a death certificate to dispose of your used tampon.
How will you know if you accidentally shed a fertilized egg that period? You won’t. Even if you take a pregnancy test every single day of your life, you still won’t know about this little egg that came and went. Pregnancy tests work by measuring levels of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in your urine. HCG is not produced by the body until a fertilized egg is attached to the uterine wall.
Although Governor Wolf has promised to veto the bill, the Pennsylvania law is just one of many medically dubious anti-abortion laws sweeping the nation. The conservative balance of the Supreme Court has inspired many states to attempt to get their most ridiculous limitations verified in an attempt to erode away any protections remaining under Roe v Wade.
TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws like these have been a common way to limit the actual effectiveness of Roe. The reality is, for America’s poorest women, abortion has already been made inaccessible.
Laws like the Fetal Remains bill, though, are taking things to a whole new low by ignoring anything that resembles medical reality.
Ohio Republicans made headlines only a few weeks ago by introducing a bill to the House which attempts to entirely outlaw abortion, potentially issuing the death penalty to “offenders”. The bill also contained a clause requiring the re-implantation of ectopic pregnancies into the uterus — a medical procedure that simply doesn’t exist.
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancies are not viable and, if left untreated, may result in the explosion of a woman’s fallopian tubes. According to The Independent, 4% of maternal deaths are the result of such pregnancies. The procedure outlined in the Ohio bill has been described by doctors as “science fiction.”
The bill is currently under review in the House Criminal Justice committee.
The Supreme Court struck down Texas TRAP laws which placed a “substantial burden” on a woman’s right to an abortion three years ago. However, in October they agreed to hear arguments in the case of Louisiana's nearly identical law. Anti-abortion activists hope that the new makeup of the court will lead to an overturning of the previous decision, or of Roe entirely.
It’s important to remember what’s at stake in this conversation. According to the World Health Organization, 23,000 women die of unsafe abortions each year. Some estimate it may actually be as high as 30,000 women, accounting for 8–10% of all maternal deaths. Tens of thousands more experience significant health complications from unsafe abortions.
CC-BY-SA, M. K. Fain
M. K. is a feminist writer and activist with a background in mental health advocacy. Subscribe to get her latest posts directly in your inbox.