Fetal remains bill gains final passage in Utah Legislature

A requirement that health care facilities dispose of fetal remains by burial or cremation passed the Utah Legislature on Friday after lawmakers reinstated the two-option mandate for cases of miscarriage in addition to abortion.

The Utah House earlier this week modified the bill so that women who miscarry would have a third choice — to let hospitals dispose of the remains along with other biological waste — while women who get an abortion would not. The Senate refused to go along with that change, after Sen. Curt Bramble told the chamber that legislative staff had flagged a potential constitutional problem with it.

“Two women in a hospital, one has a miscarriage, the other has an abortion, would be treated differently," Bramble, R-Provo, said Thursday while discussing the bill with a group of other lawmakers.

A conference committee composed of three lawmakers from each chamber agreed to language for SB67 on Thursday. The following day, the House and Senate signed off on the final version, which will now go to Gov. Gary Herbert for consideration.

Opponents of the bill have said its requirements could traumatize women by forcing them to consider the disposition of fetal tissue as they are grieving the end of a pregnancy. It also places an unfunded mandate on medical facilities to handle fetal remains in one of the two prescribed ways.

The objective, critics say, is to enshrine in state law the personhood of the fetus — a goal the bill’s supporters fully embraced in their floor debates.

“The point of the bill is to provide humanity to the unborn child,” Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, said.

Bramble and others also argue the measure empowers women by giving them a legal right to dispose of fetal remains in a manner of their choosing. Under the bill, they could also leave the decision up to medical providers.

In a press release following the final votes on the bill, Bramble said he’d worked with the medical community to resolve concerns with the proposal. The legislation allows hospitals to store the fetal remains for up to 120 days, a provision that Bramble included to reduce the cost burden for providers as it would allow for mass burials.

“I am pleased that fetal remains — like other human remains — will be treated with more dignity,” Bramble said in a prepared statement after Friday’s final vote. "This is not only better for pregnant women who lose children. This is better for our society.”

But the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah said the bill pushes a radical agenda.

“In spite of the protestations of the sponsor when he first introduced this bill, the truth is that it has always been about furthering an extremist agenda on the deeply personal and complicated issue of abortion. And now, both women who have miscarriages and women who have abortions will be forced to comply with this unnecessary hurdle in a hospital setting," said the group’s Katie Matheson.

Earlier in the week, Rep. Ray Ward, a physician, argued that the bill takes away from a woman the important choice to let a medical facilities handle fetal remains in the way they currently do. Some women want to regard the end of a pregnancy as the loss of a baby, while others do not, and the state shouldn’t force them into one perspective or another, he argued.

The Bountiful Republican attempted to include this third disposition option for all situations, but his House colleagues approved it for cases of miscarriage and rejected it for cases of abortion.