Bill on Handling of Fetal Remains Passes Pennsylvania House

Lawmakers gave approval to a proposal to require the burial or cremation of fetal remains that end up in possession of a health care facility

A proposal to require the burial or cremation of fetal remains that end up in possession of a health care facility passed a divided Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Monday after an impassioned debate.

The bill, which Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to veto, was modeled on Indiana legislation that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. It was sent to the state Senate on a vote of 123 to 76.

Supporters framed it as giving parents greater say in the disposal of remains, while opponents argued it would harass abortion facilities and impinge on women's health choices.

The legislation says parents can decide to dispose of the remains outside a health care facility after an abortion or miscarriage, but if they don't, the facility must bury or cremate them.

"We wanted to craft something that was voluntary, that provided the family with the ability for closure, the ability to understand that a human life was lost, their life, that they'd been striving for for so long," said the prime sponsor, Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon.

Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-Delaware, said the proposal would dramatically change state law about what happens after miscarriages and abortions.

"I dream of a day when we get to vote on bills that respect women and improve women's health, but today is not that day," Krueger said.

Rep. Mary Isaacson, D-Philadelphia, called the measure "yet another attempt to harass abortion providers," calling it a "mandate, not a choice" that would jeopardize access to health care.

"The people who treat patients and the patients themselves are telling us this bill is cruel, redundant and poorly drafted,'' said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny. "It will hurt families during a vulnerable time."

But Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, said the bill would help ease grief and suffering.

"This bill will give parents the comfort of knowing that they will now have the right to determine the resting place of their child's remains," Rapp said.

All Republicans voted in favor, joined by 15 Democrats.

Wolf's spokesman J.J. Abbott said politicians are not elected to tell citizens how to handle "vulnerable and personal situations.

"Women and their families are perfectly capable of making these decisions based on their own values and the advice of medical professionals," Abbott said.

In May, the Supreme Court, with two liberal justices dissenting, let Indiana enforce a requirement that abortion clinics either bury or cremate fetal remains following an abortion. The justices said in an unsigned opinion that the case does not involve limits on abortion rights.

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