A federal judge has ordered Texas to stop forcing abortion providers to submit fetal remains for medical examiners to determine whether they have suffered miscarriages or other serious fetal abnormalities.
In a ruling filed Friday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said that Texas must make the procedure mandatory for doctors who provide abortions and must ensure that doctors and clinics abide by the rules for abortion in the state.
Alsup, appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, ruled that the state has “unlawfully deprived the Plaintiffs of their constitutional right to access and participate in the medical care they need for their health care needs.”
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The ruling comes after an earlier ruling by the state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, that Texas had no right to force the state-run hospitals to conduct fetal remains exams.
The new ruling from Alsup comes after a lawsuit filed last year by Planned Parenthood of Central Texas, the state agency that runs some of the clinics that perform abortions.
The judge found that Texas is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by requiring fetal remains to be submitted for medical examination.
Alsup wrote that the requirement violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause because it “threatens the rights of women who have abortions by compelling them to participate in examinations that may not be medically necessary and may cause unnecessary risk of death or serious injury.”
“The Plaintiffs cannot reasonably expect that their bodily remains will be returned to them when they are dead, and thus are denied the dignity and privacy they so desperately need,” Alsup added.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has defended its fetal remains exam rules.
In the suit, the plaintiffs argue that doctors have a right to determine their own fetal anatomy and fetal development, including whether the fetus has a heartbeat.
Alton Sterling, the man who killed three people in Baton Rouge last year, was found not to have a heartbeat in a fetal autopsy conducted at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Mississippi.
The plaintiffs say the fetal remains examination process is “a reasonable and reasonable requirement” for doctors, who should be free to perform abortions or prescribe medications to stop pregnancy.
“This court’s decision to order Texas to follow the law and ensure that it does not violate Plaintiffs’ rights to access medical care for their medical needs is a victory for all women in Texas and across the country who need safe, legal abortions and access to reproductive health care,” Altschul said in a statement Friday.
“Texas should respect the dignity of women by requiring the fetal remnants to be reviewed and medically examined, including in cases where a fetus has died, or is stillborn, or has been medically dead,” he added.