Iowa bill requiring fetus burials or cremations moves forward

Iowa Rep. Anne Osmundson, R-Volga, is in support of a bill that requires fetuses to be buried or cremated. (Photo by: Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa legislators are advancing a bill that would require women who have a miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy to obtain a fetal death certificate and choose whether they want to bury or cremate the fetus.

The proposed legislation was discussed Thursday at a meeting of the House Human Resources Subcommittee.

Republican legislators said they are supporting House Study Bill 660 because they want to ensure “respect” for fetuses in light of a criminal case in Indiana where investigators discovered more than 2,400 fetal remains in a deceased physician’s house and car. 

The abortions performed by the Indiana doctor resulted in a mass burial on Thursday. Indiana is one of the few states that require either burial or cremation of fetal remains, according to CNN.

“This is a human life we’r (opens in a new tab)e talking about and the remains should be treated with respect and care,” said Rep. Rob Bacon, R-Slater. “I like this bill. I like where it’s headed.”

Currently, Iowa law requires a fetal death certificate in cases where the mother was at least 20 weeks pregnant. 

Several women opposed to the bill spoke at Thursday’s subcommittee meeting. They shared stories of grieving over miscarriages, and said said the bill could prove detrimental to Iowa women who experience such a loss.

Karla Fultz McHenry, a lobbyist for the Iowa Independent Physicians Group, said the organization opposes the bill. She shared her own story of enduring miscarriages and said the bill is offensive.

“I don’t think I want a stack of death certificates sitting in my drawer that I can look back on and think about those pregnancies,” McHenry said. “I think about them all the time.”

Connie Ryan of Interfaith Alliance said that after her miscarriage, the last thing she wanted to do was decide on a name for the death certificate or how to handle the remains.

Fetal death certificates include a section for a name that can be left blank, according to guidelines from the Iowa Department of Public Health. The last name must be filled in, however.

“All I wanted to do was go home and be in my bed,” Ryan said. “I did, and I stayed there for three days.”

Chaney Yeast, a lobbyist with Blank Children’s Hospital, which is part of Unity Point Health, said doctors from the organization already speak to women about their options. The organization is registered as undecided on the bill.

Yeast said an increase in death-certificate filings could create a burden on already-strained medical facilities and would require them to hire another staff person just to deal with the administrative burden of filing the certificates.

She also questioned how death certificates would be certified if a woman miscarried outside of a hospital, but later went to a doctor to be examined.

“They’re not coming with fetal remains to the hospital,” Yeast said.

Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, which favors the bill, said some families have to deal with the pain of not having the remains returned to them, and of not knowing what happened to them.

“It’s another trauma to learn that the remains were treated disrespectfully,” Chapman said.

The bill moved forward Thursday on a 2-1 party-line vote in the subcommittee. It needs the approval of the full committee by the end of next week to meet a legislative deadline for further consideration this year.

Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, chair of the House Human Resources Committee, said she plans on taking up the bill.

“As we move forward, we have to consider the fact that it is a human,” Lundgren said. “We can’t treat it as medical waste in that regard.”

Linh Ta
Reporter Linh Ta comes to Iowa Capital Dispatch from the Des Moines Register, where she covered trending news, public safety and the suburbs. Most recently, she has covered retail business and followed both national and local trends to provide insight about the issues that matter the most to Iowans. Beyond traditional journalism, Ta has worked as a speech coach with the Des Moines Storytellers Project with the goal of sharing the diverse perspectives of Iowans from all walks of life. She is the 2019 winner of the Young Iowa Journalist Award and the winner of an Iowa Broadcast News Award. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @linhmaita.