Federal Judge Temporarily Halts Texas Rule Requiring Burial of Fetal Remains

Image: File photo: Whole Woman's Health founder Amy Hagstrom Miller speaking to members of the media during a media tour of the Whole Woman's Health clinic in San Antonio
Whole Woman's Health founder Amy Hagstrom Miller speaks to members of the media during a tour of the Whole Woman's Health clinic in San Antonio, Texas, on Feb. 9, 2016.DARREN ABATE / Reuters

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By The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge late Friday again blocked Texas rules mandating burial or cremation of fetal remains, in a victory for abortion rights groups.

Austin-based U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said that the health department regulations would remain suspended until further notice and that a trial date would be set in coming weeks.

Sparks had previously suggested in court that the proposed rules had public health benefit. Opponents argue they could unduly shame and burden women seeking abortions.

The rules seek to ban hospitals and clinics from disposing of fetal remains from abortions or miscarriages as biological medical waste, usually meaning they are incinerated and placed in sanitary landfills.

They were set to take effect in December, but Sparks issued restraining orders after national advocacy groups sued. He then heard two days of testimony before eventually issuing Friday's injunction. Federal courts previously blocked similar measures in Louisiana and Indiana.

Related: Texas Makes New Move to Cut Off Planned Parenthood

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights called the rules "unnecessary, unconstitutionally vague, and manifestly insulting to women."

"Our Constitution protects a woman's fundamental right to access reproductive health care without needless barriers, and we will continue fighting for decisions like this wherever politicians choose to ignore that right," Northup said in a statement.

Texas could appeal the injunction and ask a higher court to allow the rules to move forward while it waits for trial. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office hasn't commented on that possibility but vowed Friday to keep fighting for the rules.

"Texas has chosen to dignify the life of the unborn by requiring the humane disposition of fetal remains," Paxton said in a statement. He said the ruling "reaffirms that the abortion lobby has grown so extreme that it will reject any and every regulation no matter how sensible."

Related: Women's Groups Challenge New Texas Abortion Law

Texas first proposed the rules in July, days after the U.S. Supreme Court voided much of the state's larger anti-abortion law, which was approved in 2013 and would have left Texas with 10 abortion clinics, down from more than 40 in 2012.

The state health department said the rules sought to protect human dignity in a manner consistent with Texas' past restrictions on abortion. But while hearing evidence earlier this month, Sparks said they were "100 percent political" and suggested they could supersede established Texas law that allows scattering of ashes on any private property with owner's consent, which might include landfills.