Republican senators have introduced a bill to mandate the burial or cremation of fetal tissue after an abortion in response to the discovery of 2,246 fetal remains in the garage of a deceased abortion doctor.
The bill, the Dignity for Aborted Children Act, is similar to a measure signed into law in Indiana by Vice President Mike Pence when he was governor, which became enforceable this month. The Supreme Court upheld the law this year, though it hasn't ruled on its merits.
The bill is in response to the news about Dr. Ulrich "George" Klopfer, who was a hoarder and stashed away 20-year-old fetal remains. The remains were discovered this month in medically sealed bags placed into cardboard boxes at his Illinois home. Klopfer provided abortions in Indiana for decades but lost his medical license roughly three years before his death on Sept. 3.
Under the Senate legislation, abortion providers would be required to arrange for the burial or cremation of the remains or otherwise face a fine and up to five years in prison. The woman who has the abortion would be given a consent form that would allow her to choose to retain the tissue or to let the abortion clinic handle it.
The bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Todd Young of Indiana, Steve Daines of Montana, John Cornyn of Texas, Rick Scott of Florida, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. They are seeking to add more co-sponsors. Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana is looking at introducing a similar measure on the House side.
"The discovery of thousands of fetal remains in an Indiana abortionist's home horrified every American who respects the sanctity of life, and highlighted a disturbing trend that Indiana has taken the lead in rectifying," Braun said in a statement, calling the discovery in Klopfer's home "grotesque collections."
The Washington Examiner interviewed Braun at his office Tuesday, and at the time, he said he wasn't sure how a fetal burial law, or any anti-abortion legislation, could pass Congress given that lawmakers had recently rejected other restrictions on abortion. He said he supported burial laws but didn't state any intention to introduce a bill, though he said states should move ahead on restrictions and that the Supreme Court would need to take up abortion rights again.
"If we really wanted to get somewhere, the leadership and guidance needs to come from the Supreme Court," he said.
The Senate, with mostly Democrats opposing, rejected a bill in 2018 that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and another bill in February clarifying that babies who survive attempted abortions must receive medical care.
After an abortion, providers treat fetal tissue as medical waste to be incinerated, flushed into the sewage system, or discarded in a landfill. Some states want to change that, but few have been successful. A federal judge stuck down a fetal burial law in Texas last year, and an appeal is currently being weighed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Ohio's state Senate also advanced a fetal burial law in March.
Ernst said that the discovery at Klopfer's home "serves as a stark reminder that we must protect and defend life."
"We cannot be a society that tolerates actions like Dr. Klopfer’s, and this bill will ensure the remains of all human beings, in every stage of life, get the dignity and respect they deserve," she said.
Abortion rights advocates have fought burial and cremation laws in court, arguing that they heap more work on providers, who have to arrange for the services. That makes abortions more expensive, they say, putting the procedure out of reach for low-income patients. They also argue that the laws don't take the patient's moral or religious beliefs into consideration and that they would affect women who miscarry, often without knowing it because the symptoms mimic a heavy period.