The Satanic Temple: New Texas Regulations Regarding Fetal Remains Violate Members’ Religious Freedom

This week, Texas passed controversial new rules regarding the disposal of aborted fetal remains. According to The Satanic Temple, the requirements violate the religious freedom of the group’s members. The new Texas rules (not laws, mind you, as they were passed by bureaucratic process as opposed to legislation) will require any facility that performs abortion to either bury or cremate the fetal remains. Regardless of the gestational age of the aborted fetus in question.

As The New York Times reports, the new Texas regulations have ignited a huge storm of controversy, and they came after months of harshly divided debate on the subject. Previously, aborted fetal remains in Texas were treated as biological medical waste. The new regulations elevate fetal remains to some other status entirely, a status women’s rights supporters allege is suspiciously close to “personhood.”

The newly approved Texas rules that have prompted a response from The Satanic Temple are set to be implemented nearly immediately, going into effect in the state on December 19. The controversial rules were proposed under the quiet direction of pro-live Texas Governor Greg Abbott in July, a move that appeared to be a direct counter to a SCOTUS decision that struck down portions of a controversial Texas law that would have reduced the number of abortion clinics operating in the state. According to Abbott, the new Texas fetal remains rules are meant to help “turn the tide” against abortion in the state.

“I believe it is imperative to establish higher standards that reflect our respect for the sanctity of life. This is why Texas will require clinics and hospitals to bury or cremate human and fetal remains. I don’t believe human and fetal remains should be treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills.”

Despite Governor Abbott’s words, the new Texas fetal remains rules will only apply to abortions performed in clinics or other medical facilities, reports Jezebel. Because the regulations don’t apply to miscarried fetuses or abortions performed in the home, the new Texas policy has the hallmarks of regulations targeting abortion specifically, rather than preventing fetal remains from being disposed of in landfills. Enter The Satanic Temple.

It is precisely this perceived attack on women’s reproductive rights that has The Satanic Temple speaking out against the new Texas rules. Namely, according to Satanic Temple spokesman, Lucien Greaves, the new Texas fetal remain rules are “a direct violation,” of the group’s beliefs. Further, The Satanic Temple wants its members wholly exempted from the controversial new Texas rules under federal religious freedom laws.

“Texas health officials are baldly imposing the view that the fetal tissue is elevated to personhood—a religious opinion that conflicts with our own. If Texas is going to treat the disposal of fetal tissue differently from the disposal of any other biological material, in contradiction to our own religious beliefs, they need to present a compelling state interest for doing so. Of course, there is no such state interest, and it’s perfectly clear the demand for fetal tissue burial is a punitive measure imposed by sadistic theocrats. It’s clear these officials deem harassment an acceptable form of pushing their misguided religious agendas.”

The Satanic Temple has a long and storied history of standing up for “religious” reproductive rights and has brought attention to and raised funds for the purpose of protecting women’s individual rights to make their own reproductive choices. The group’s Reproductive Rights Campaign is perhaps The Satanic Temple’s most notable effort, with the group stepping into the Missouri abortion law fray in 2015 and now getting involved in the new Texas fetal remains rules. According to the group, the new Texas rules would infringe upon the religious rights of its members if enforced upon them.

“The Satanic Temple believes burial rites are a well-established component of religious practice. This is undisputed in the entirety of US legal history. In addition, members of The Satanic Temple believe in the inviolability of the body and, as such, these rules contradict our fundamental beliefs.”

Indeed, the tenants of The Satanic Temple are very clear when it comes to who is in control of a woman’s (or man’s) body, at least when it comes to members of its organization.

In fact, The Satanic Temple is not really “Satanic” at all, but rather a secular organization that disavows superstition in the name of reason, and uses the name “Satan” symbolically. Even so, the organization fights to protect its members under both the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Reform Act (RFRA) when it is perceived that legislation is being used to promote “religious agendas.”

The Satanic Temple is far from the only organization to take exception to the new Texas fetal remains rules. The Texas Medical Association and Texas Hospital Association say that the new rules “will present regulatory intrusion unique relationship” between women and their doctors.

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas (in the tune of The Satanic Temple), has called out the “the addition of non-medical ritual” safe, legal abortion on demand (a medical procedure), adding that the new Texas fetal remains rules are nothing more than “a thinly veiled attempt to shame Texans who have abortions and make it harder for the doctors who provide them.”

“The state agency has once again ignored the concerns of the medical community and thousands of Texans by playing politics with people’s private health care decisions. [In addition, the state] has failed to show any evidence this rule benefits public health or improves the safe practice of modern medicine.”

Texas’ new rules aren’t the first of their kind; Indiana and Louisiana have passed similar new rules. However, the regulations were never enforced in those states due to legal challenges. As The Seattle Times reports, Texas is likely to face a lawsuit challenging the new rules in the immediate future; however, a lawsuit hasn’t been confirmed.

“This is such an obvious end-run against the Supreme Court decision.”

As for The Satanic Temple, the organization has yet to file a suit against Texas over the new rules but is ready and willing to cross that line should the need arise.

“We’ll file an injunction as soon as the state tried to impose this on a member who claims exemption. As soon as that happens, we absolutely will sue, and it’s very, very difficult to imagine any plausible reasoning by which we’d lose.”

What are your thoughts on the new Texas fetal remains rules? Do you think they were enacted for medical reasons, or is it more likely they were an attempt to circumvent safe and legal abortion on-demand in the conservative state following this summer’s Supreme Court ruling? Do you think that the new rules regarding the disposal of fetal remains will stand, or will Texas see them shot down as the result of lawsuits from The Satanic Temple and/or other organizations?

[Featured Image by Elise Amendola/AP Images]

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