Reading Time: 3 minutes Anti-abortion zealots think this is a person.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Lawmakers in the Pennsylvania House have passed a bill — the Final Disposition of Fetal Remains Act, or HB 1890  — that would require health care facilities to inter or cremate fetal remains.

That includes fertilized eggs that were simply miscarried.

Anti-abortion zealots think this is a person.

A health care facility that possesses fetal remains shall have the following duties:

(1) Provide for the final disposition of the fetal remains in accordance with the burial and transit permit requirements under 28 Pa. Code Ch. 1 (relating to administration of vital records).

(2) Cremate or inter the fetal remains.

To an extent, it seems almost reasonable on the surface. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that such laws are valid based on the state’s “legitimate interest in the proper disposal of fetal remains.” And the bill’s sponsor, GOP State Rep. Francis Ryan, insists that the bill won’t affect those who abort or miscarry — only their health care providers — and says absolutely nothing about death certificates for the unborn.

But Pennsylvania’s Women’s Law Project calls these claims — and the whole bill in general — misleading. Staff attorney Christine Castro explained it like this:

No, it does not explicitly mandate a death certificate. [But] it explicitly mandates a burial permit, and you need a death certificate to obtain a burial permit. HB 1890 is like a Russian doll; you have to keep unpacking it to see what’s really inside.

It gets worse. The bill defines “fetal death” in an extreme way, one that’s not backed by medical science or current Pennsylvania law. The current legal and medical framework considers any death after 16 weeks of gestation as a “fetal” death. HB 1890 proposes a new definition:

“Fetal death.” The expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of conception which shows no evidence of life after the expulsion or extraction.

That’s any product of conception, at any point of gestation. The law proposes no cutoff point before which the death of a fertilized egg is none of the government’s business. That means a health care facility would have to bury a non-viable fertilized egg from the moment of conception onward.

In the current climate, where abortion rights are highly contested, that’s no accident.

The goal, it seems, is to enshrine in Pennsylvania law that anti-abortion zealots have been pushing for decades: the unscientific idea that any pregnancy, from the moment of fertilization, is no different from a fully-formed baby as it passes through the birth canal, with the same degree of personhood and rights.

That’s not scientifically accurate. That’s not even common sense.

Science tells us that roughly 50% of fertilized eggs will fail to last long enough for their bearer to become aware of their existence. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines pregnancy as beginning with the implantation of a blastocyst in the uterine lining. Forget fetal personhood — by medical consensus, a fertilized egg is not even a pregnancy.

But the people pushing for these sorts of laws simply aren’t interested in the science.

So will this law be used to force formal burials for late periods? Will health care facilities need death certificates for cells the size of pinheads? Not necessarily. Pennsylvania’s governor, Democrat Tom Wolf, has already said he would veto the bill, though there may be enough votes to override him. Then there are the legal challenges this bill would face if passed.

But it’s the latest in a litany of efforts to redefine fetuses as people — a movement which, if it gains enough traction, could give the Supreme Court a justification for overturning Roe v. Wade and returning America to the back-alley abortion days of yore.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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