The XX Factor

Ohio Slams Planned Parenthood for Disposing Fetal Tissue. Are We Supposed to Be Shocked?

Ohio pro-life protesters in Washington in 2002.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Just when you thought fetal tissue trafficking was going out of vogue, here comes Ohio with another juicy tale of scandal. On Friday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released the results of yet another thorough investigation into the alleged sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood. The unsurprising results: Investigators found no evidence of fetal tissue sales. They did, however, claim to find startling news regarding the routine disposal of aborted fetuses, or what DeWine described as “steam cooking fetuses and then disposing of them in a landfill.”

“Disposing of aborted fetuses from an abortion by sending them to a landfill is callous and completely inhumane,” DeWine said.

While the investigation provided conclusive evidence of what has already been proven in several other states—that Planned Parenthood is not guilty of any wrongdoing—DeWine’s press release drowned out those findings with more salacious claims, i.e., Planned Parenthood might not be selling baby parts, but they are throwing fetuses in the trash alongside the coffee grounds and the used Band-Aids.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio hit back following DeWine’s announcement by filing a federal lawsuit; the organization is “seeking a preliminary injunction that would block DeWine and Ohio health officials from interfering with its services,” according to CNN. “Today, we’re asking a federal court to prevent the state from this plainly political attempt to restrict women’s access to safe and legal abortion,” Stephanie Knight, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said in a statement.

Are we supposed to be shocked by DeWine’s revelations about Planned Parenthood? What is the proper method for disposing aborted fetuses, anyway? The answer is simple. When you have a tumor removed during surgery or your appendix taken out, the tissue goes to the incinerator. Your extracted teeth, your used blood vials from a lab draw—they eventually go to the incinerator, too. Abortions are no different. In all these cases, the tissue is thermally treated to convert it to ash, gas, and heat for safe disposal. In other words, incineration is cremation.

DeWine, a known anti-abortion activist, contends that disposal of tissues in landfills violates Ohio Administrative Code 3701-47-05 in that the tissues are not being handled humanely. But the law does not elaborate on what encompasses humane disposal or the ideal manner in which to dispose of fetal tissue, so it’s unclear what exactly is being violated here. It’s also worth noting that methods for the disposal of medical waste vary and are regulated by individual states. In Arkansas, for example, proper disposal of material from obstetric procedures includes incineration, “managed in such a manner that final disposition shall be a sanitary landfill.” The Texas Administrative Code likewise cites proper disposal of fetal tissue as incineration (or any other approved process that renders tissue unrecognizable) followed by deposition in a sanitary landfill. What’s happening in Ohio is likely the same as what’s happening in every other state when it comes to medical tissue specimen disposal: It’s highly regulated and held to the same rigorous environmental standards as any other type of biowaste disposal.

Of course, the overarching issue here is not fetal tissue disposal; rather, it’s the underlying anti-choice ideology. If politicians were actually concerned about fetal tissue disposal, they would propose legislation to fund proper casket burials for all aborted fetuses—including those 89 percent of abortions that occur in the first trimester, when fetal tissue looks akin to a heavy period. Update, Dec. 16, 4:48 p.m.: Do Ohio Republicans read XX Factor? Ohio Public Radio reports that GOP state representatives are sponsoring a bill requiring women who have abortions or who miscarry to “sign a form, designating burial or cremation of fetal remains,” with costs “passed on to the [medical] facility which could then pass it on to the women being treated.” Rep. Robert McColley stated he’s not yet sure “whether there would be specific cemeteries for the bodies or places where cremains could be spread.”

Contra DeWine, what is really “callous” here is how fetal tissue disposal is just another pawn in the cruel legislative game we are playing with women’s lives. It’s yet another prospective barrier to providing reproductive health services in Ohio, and thus it threatens women’s health. Major medical groups agree that politicians should stay out of the exam room. They should stay out of the pathology room, too.