Utah fetal remains burial bill now squarely targets abortion

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, amended a bill on burial or cremation of fetal remains to target the measure only at abortions and exclude miscarriages. This Nov. 3, 2017, file photos shows Ward, a physician, during a committee hearing at the Utah state Capitol.

A fetus aborted early in a pregnancy would have to be buried or cremated, while a miscarriage occurring weeks later could be discarded as medical waste under the latest version of a bill that earned the approval of the Utah House on Wednesday.

The bill, SB67, originally mandated burial or cremation for both abortions and miscarriages, with the sponsors arguing that it would ensure fetal remains are treated with dignity and respect.

But after an amendment was proposed by Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, to allow parents to select the traditional disposal method of their health care provider, members of the House split the motion into two parts, adopting it for miscarriages and rejecting it for abortions.

“I think in both of these situations, as an abortion or a miscarriage, a woman should still have all options presented to her," said Ward, who also works as a physician.

Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, spoke against both sections of the amendment. He compared the death of a fetus to the death of a “post-birth body” like himself, saying it would be a criminal act for his family to simply dispose of his remains.

“The point of the bill is to provide humanity to the unborn child,” Brammer said, “whereas the point of the amendment takes a little bit of that away in that it treats that corpse as medical waste and not as a human.”

Ward argued that traditional disposal methods are not disrespectful, and in many cases are the preferred method for parents who would prefer to not consider the miscarriage of an early pregnancy as the death of a child.

“I do still believe that constitutes a choice with dignity in a difficult situation,” he said.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he didn’t understand the downside of the amendment, unless the true motivation of the legislation is to perpetuate an agenda of legal personhood for unborn fetuses.

“I think that’s problematic,” he said.

And Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, said Ward’s amendment is a careful approach that provides women with a broader range of options if they experience a miscarriage or elect to terminate a pregnancy.

“I would argue that unless you’re giving women and families every choice, you’re not actually giving them any choice but the one you choose for the patient,” she said.

But the bill’s House sponsor, Clearfield Republican Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, argued that fetal remains are fundamentally different than other forms of biological material and as such should be subject to a different method of disposal.

“Amputated limbs don’t have their own genome,” Lisonbee said. “Amputated limbs don’t have their own DNA. Amputated limbs don’t have their own heartbeat, but deceased humans do.”

The House voted 41-31 for the miscarriage portion of Ward’s amendment, and subsequently voted 58-14 for the bill. But an additional amendment, broadening exemptions for disposition of fetal remains by pathologists, makes it unclear how strictly the requirement to bury or cremate an aborted fetus can be enforced, as existing Utah law requires that the remains of a terminated pregnancy be sent to pathology labs for examination.

After the House approved the bill, the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah released a statement saying that the true intent of the legislation had been “exposed.”

“The purpose of this bill has always been to further the extremist agenda of a small group of people about the deeply personal and sensitive issue of abortion,” said Lauren Simpson, ABU’s policy director. “Instead of treating all fetal tissue equally, this bill allows for different treatment based on whether a woman had a miscarriage or an abortion.”

Because of the House amendments, the bill must secure an additional vote of the Senate before moving to the governor for his consideration. An earlier version of the bill passed the Senate last month in a 22-6 vote.

Lawmakers are also considering legislation this year that would ban all elective abortions, but only if Roe v. Wade were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, and a bill mandating that women seeking an abortion be shown an ultrasound and played the audio of their fetus’ heartbeat.