Legislative preview from McKell, Bramble 09

Utah Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, left, and Utah Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, right, speak with one another before the Utah County Republican Women's meeting at the Provo City Library on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Provo.

A substitute version of a bill that would require medical facilities to either bury or cremate fetal remains from miscarriages or abortions passed through the Utah Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 67, which is sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, would leave the decision of what happens to the remains up to the woman who had the abortion or miscarriage. The Senate voted 22-6 in favor of an amended version of the bill on Tuesday during the bill’s third reading.

“(The) overarching impact of this bill is that it requires the remains of an unborn child, whether that child’s life is forfeit through an abortion or tragically ended through a miscarriage, ... to be treated with dignity,” Bramble said on Monday, when the bill passed through the Senate on its second reading.

Opponents of the bill argue that women having abortions or going through miscarriages should not be burdened with questions about what to do with the remains.

During a committee hearing on SB 67 on Jan. 31, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, read a letter addressed to the committee written by Utah-based obstetrician/gynecologist Howard Sharp, who called it “extremely inappropriate” to require doctors to ask about what to do with fetal remains “if it was not requested by the person having the miscarriage.”

“Forcing that discussion upon people at that moment … Well, it is hard for me to think of something more inappropriate,” Sharpe wrote.

Bramble said the bill is intended to give women more autonomy over what happens to the remains. He told the story of a friend who had a miscarriage while visiting Utah in 2012 for a legislative conference and the legal hoops she had to go through to transport the fetus back to her home state of Indiana.

“We found that the law didn’t allow for it,” Bramble said on Monday, “because, you see, the law treats those remains as nothing more than medical waste.”

There is a misconception that the bill would require women to choose what happens with the remains, Bramble said, adding that it gives women the option of choosing what to do with the remains but doesn’t require them to make a choice.

“It doesn’t mandate anything on the woman,” Bramble said on Tuesday.

Bramble added an amendment to the bill that “makes it crystal clear” that a woman wouldn’t have to choose what to do with the remains, he said. The amendment puts language in the bill clarifying that a woman would make a decision if she “has a preference for the disposition,” according to the bill’s text.

Bramble also changed the ways in which women would be notified of their ability to make a decision. In addition to informing a patient through a written statement, health care facilities would have the option of informing them through “an in-person consultation with a physician” or with a mental health therapist.

In a statement released Monday after SB 67 passed through its second reading, Alliance for a Better Utah Policy Director Lauren Simpson questioned the motivation behind the bill and said its “true purpose” is to “chip away at women’s reproductive rights.”

“This bill is not about supporting patients,” Simpson said. “It removes choices currently available to women and instead imposes an ideological mandate on a deeply personal experience.”

Now that it has passed through the Senate, SB 67 will go to the House for discussion and vote.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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