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Pennsylvania House Advances Bill On Handling Fetal Remains

Matt Rourke

The Pennsylvania House on Wednesday approved a bill that would require health care facilities to provide for the burial or cremation of fetal remains after a miscarriage or abortion.

Following an emotionally fraught debate in politically riven chamber, the representatives voted 118-83 to send the proposal to the Senate, with all but one Republican and six Democrats in favor.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has said he will veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.

Supporters said the measure would give a couple who has lost a child options that may help them grieve, while opponents called the proposal governmental overreach into private family matters.

“This is a bill that’s intended to be compassionate, provide an option and to help the healing process for all those that have suffered through this horrific tragedy of the loss of a child,” said the main sponsor, Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon.

The Final Disposition of Fetal Remains Act, as it would be known, would require abortion providers and other health care facilities that handle fetal remains to arrange for either their burial or cremation. The parents would be able to make their own arrangements at their own cost.

Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, warned of the costs for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages: “Big Brother is finding you.”

Rep. Tim Bonner, R-Mercer, said the bill was a way to foster "eternal peace and a dignified and respectful place of rest for those who have died far too young.”

Democrats said the legislation would present families with limited options, and warned that thousands in burial or cremation costs would end up paid by parents, either directly or through insurance.

“There's not a right way to say goodbye to your plans for a child, and Pennsylvania has no place in choosing one for you,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny.

Rep. Mary Isaacson, D-Philadelphia, said there is nothing in existing law that keeps disappointed couples from engaging in what she called “ritual burial.” She called the proposal “another political attempt to put legislators between women and their doctors.”

Several members, including Rep. Jennifer O'Mara, D-Delaware, described past pregnancy challenges. O'Mara said she is about to start another round of in vitro fertilization and urged colleagues to “think about families that you’re mandating to grieve in a way that’s not appropriate to them.”

“I don't want to be forced to grieve in a way that 102 members of this chamber decided,” said O'Mara, referring to the number required in the House for passage of legislation.

The GOP floor leader in the House, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff of Centre County, said the bill was “about dignity of this unborn individual.”