Monday, May 31, 2021

No, Pennsylvania is not fining women for miscarriages.

Summary of Pennsylvania’s Final Disposition of Fetal Remains Act

Today's guest post is by Daniel Gump.

On January 11, 2021, Pennsylvania Representative Francis Ryan reintroduced the Final Disposition of Fetal Remains Act (House Bill No. 118) to The General Assembly of Pennsylvania.[1] He previously introduced it to the committee on health in September 2019.[2] This three-page legislation clarifies a few aspects on recording fetal demise and handling fetal remains after sixteen weeks[3] of gestation.

It addresses the duties of health care facilities in relation to proper disposition of fetal remains in that they must record the fetal death in accordance with the Vital Statistics Law of 1953[4] and arrange for the cremation (allowing for simultaneous) or burial under 28 Pa. Code, Ch. 1[5]. It also provides the option for a parent to select a different location for final disposition and become responsible for the costs of such selection. A violation of proper disposal and recording is subject to penalties under Article IX of the Vital Statistics Law of 1953.

Though that is all the legislation addresses, it hasn’t stopped the manufacturing of controversy. Democratic US Senate candidate Valerie Arkoosh claimed on her Twitter account that this legislation would fine women who miscarry and force them to fill out the state’s application for fetal death certificates.[6] 

These claims are false. There is no fine, and one would only need to submit the application if ordering copies of the certificate itself for personal records. Since Arkoosh is an obstetric anesthesiologist[7], it is difficult to believe this was an honest misunderstanding, rather than a purposeful fundraising ruse. A brief look at the quote tweets reveals many celebrities, politicians, and media personalities spreading the deception as confirmation of their biases, rather than bothering to verify the truth of it.

Though this legislation has been thrust into the abortion debate for having passing similarities to the fetal disposal sections of Indiana’s Public Laws 115-2015[8] (upheld in Box v. Planned Parenthood[9]), the Pennsylvania act never once mentions induced abortions. The purpose of this legislation is, rather, to help parents obtain the remains of their deceased unborn children — something that is often a struggle for grieving families, particularly for deaths before twenty weeks gestation. Absent clear laws on the procedures in many US states for parents to request the remains[10], hospital staff can be left confused on how to handle them and end up disposing those remains as medical waste[11] or keeping them in storage[12]. This results in further pain for the families, left with no tangible proof of the short existence of the lost child. Ratification of this legislation may provide the means to help loss parents at a time when it is needed the most.

  1. The General Assembly of Pennsylvania, House Bill No. 118. (Pa., 2021)
  2. The General Assembly of Pennsylvania, House Bill No. 1890. (Pa., 2019)
  3. Public Laws of 1953, No. 66, “Vital Statistics Law of 1953,” §105(4) (Pa., 1953)
  4. Public Laws of 1953, No. 66. Id.
  5. Pennsylvania Code, Title 28, Ch. 1 (Pa., 1959, 1979)
  6. Arkoosh, Valerie. Twitter, @ValArkooshPA. May 25, 2021.
  7. Lachman, Samantha. “Philadelphia Doctor Val Arkoosh Touts Obamacare in Campaign for House,” HuffPost.  Feb 24, 2014.
  8. Public Laws 113-2015, Senate Bill 329 (Ind., 2015)
  9. Kristina Box, et al. v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (587 US ___, 2019)
  10. ”State Laws,” Heaven’s Gain Ministries. 2014?
  11. Eisner, Robin. “Should Parents Bury Miscarriage Remains?,” ABC News.  January 6, 2006.
  12. Wible, Pamela, MD. “What Happens to All the Miscarriages?,” August 6, 2013.

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