Charitable service expands longtime practice of many Catholic cemeteries for children lost to miscarriages
AUSTIN — Catholic cemeteries are stepping forward, working with the Catholic bishops in Texas, in response to ongoing efforts to provide a proper burial for children lost to abortion.
New state regulations issued by the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) require the interment of the remains of all children who are lost through abortion or miscarriage at a healthcare or abortion facility. These regulations will be effective December 19.
Many hospitals already cooperate with families, funeral homes, and cemeteries to provide a proper burial for children who die in utero. Catholic cemeteries in many (arch)dioceses, such as the Archdiocese of San Antonio, have provided these burials for years.
The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) will continue to work with Catholic cemeteries and funeral homes to further develop this ministry to provide the same service throughout the state to children who die by abortion. The service will be provided at no charge.
“To bury the dead is a work of mercy,” TCCB Executive Director Jennifer Carr Allmon explained. “As Pope Francis reminds us, the victims of our ‘throwaway culture’ are ‘the weakest and most fragile human beings.’ It is right and just for us to be assisting the victims of abortion.” Catholic cemeteries estimate that their costs will range from $1,500 to $13,000 annually to inter children who die from abortions. There are more than 50 Catholic cemeteries in the state; the TCCB also hopes to collaborate with other cemeteries, funeral homes, and mortuaries.
The burial of the dead is praised in canon law (Code of Canon Law, c. 1176), the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Scripture. In Scripture, Tobias was lauded by the angel Raphael for burying the dead without hesitation (Tobit, 1:17-20, 2:1-7, 12:11-13). The Catechism states, “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit” (no. 2300). By this corporal work of mercy, we perform charitable actions “by which we come to the aid of our neighbor” (Catechism, no. 2447).
DSHS reports that in 2014, the latest year for which data is available, 54,902 abortions were performed in Texas. In the same year, there were 2,200 fetal deaths statewide.
The new law modifies Texas Administrative Code §1.136, which already included interment as one of three possible ways to dispose of children lost through abortion or miscarriage. The revision only removes the other two options: “deposition in a sanitary landfill;” and “grinding and discharging to a sanitary sewer system.”
Patients are not required to participate in deposition; the law specifically applies only to healthcare or abortion facilities, and does not apply to women who lose a child outside of a healthcare or abortion facility, such as at their own home. Burial records will be maintained by hospitals and cemeteries.
The Catholic ministry is available to all, regardless of their situation. “This is an important service for the most vulnerable children in our state,” Allmon said. “We must treat the remains of all human beings, no matter how long they lived or how they died, with dignity, charity and respect. In addition, this ministry offers a place to pray for healing to those who regret their abortion, or for abortion workers who leave the industry.”
The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops is the association of the Roman Catholic bishops of Texas.
Through the TCCB, the bishops provide a moral and social public policy voice that includes monitoring all legislation pertaining to Catholic moral and social teaching; accrediting the state's Catholic schools; and maintaining records that reflect the work and the history of the Catholic Church in Texas.