Tennessee House passes bill mandating that fetal remains be buried or cremated

Medical providers in Tennessee would be required to cremate or bury fetal remains from surgical abortions under legislation advanced by the GOP-controlled House on Monday.

The proposal has sparked criticism among reproductive rights advocates, who argue such measures — which have been enacted in other Republican-majority states — are unnecessary and would stigmatize a legally available procedure.

"This is one of the most offensive pieces of legislation I've heard this year," said Democratic Rep. London Lamar, who experienced a late-term pregnancy loss in 2019. "Offensive for women who actually have had to bury children.

"This is not a pro-life piece of legislation. What you are doing is further using your legislative powers to bring trauma on women who make that choice," Lamar, from Memphis, argued.

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However, supporters of the bill argue that it will protect human dignity.

"It's not fetal tissue, it's dismembered children," said Rep. Robin Smith, a Republican from Hixson.

According to the bill, medical providers must dispose of fetal remains from surgical abortions by cremation or burial and cover the costs of the disposal. The measure states that the pregnant woman "has a right to determine" the method and location for the final disposal of the fetal remains, but could choose not to exercise that right. Hospitals would be excluded under the proposed bill.

The proposal would need to clear the Senate before it could head to Gov. Bill Lee's desk for his approval. The Republican governor hasn't publicly weighed in on the bill, but he has repeatedly stressed his opposition to abortion. Last year, he signed one of the strictest abortion bans in the country but it was promptly blocked from being implemented due to a legal challenge.

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The language in the Tennessee proposal mirrors an Indiana law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019. In an unsigned opinion, the justices said the case did not involve limits on abortion rights.

Indiana was among the first states to pass fetal-remains laws, in 2016, after anti-abortion activists released undercover video of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the transfer of fetal tissue. The videos sparked anger from conservatives around the country, but investigations cleared the group of wrongdoing.

Since then, at least 10 other states have enacted similar requirements, though legal challenges persist. Earlier this month, a judge temporarily blocked enforcement of Ohio’s fetal-remains disposal law after agreeing that a lack of rules made complying unworkable for clinics.