By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A federal judge blocked Texas laws requiring the burial or cremation of aborted fetal tissue, saying in a decision on Wednesday the measures placed substantial and unconstitutional obstacles in the path of a woman’s right to choose an abortion.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra in Austin, Texas, issued a permanent injunction preventing the measures from going into effect.
“The evidence in this case overwhelmingly demonstrated that if the challenged laws were to go into effect now, they would likely cause a near catastrophic failure of the healthcare system designed to serve women of childbearing age within the State of Texas,” Ezra wrote in a decision posted in online records.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, who include abortion providers, said women could already seek burial or cremation of fetal tissue under current state law.
They said the law placed an arbitrary burden on women’s beliefs by requiring a burial ritual and could place providers under threat of closure if they could not find ways to abide by the measures.
Lawyers for Texas argued the laws would protect human dignity and have no impact on abortion providers.
Texas began crafting regulations on fetal tissue disposal in 2016, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down separate abortion restrictions regarding doctors and facilities.
The proposed Texas requirements were more stringent than those in almost every other state, which generally allow aborted fetal tissue to be disposed of in a similar manner as other human tissue, typically through incineration and disposal in a sanitary landfill, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which monitors reproductive health laws.
In June 2017, Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed abortion restrictions into law, including the requirement on disposal of fetal tissue.
Ezra, who had temporarily halted the law, has said he wanted to keep the proceedings from being influenced by speculation a new U.S. Supreme Court justice could alter national abortion law.
Republicans are hoping the Senate will confirm Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative U.S. appeals court judge nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, before the court’s next term opens in October.
Abortion rights advocates worry Kavanaugh could change the balance on the Supreme Court in favor of more restrictions or even help overturn the court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
During his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Kavanaugh signaled respect for Roe v. Wade, calling it an important legal precedent that had been reaffirmed by the justices over the decades.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)