By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - Several abortion providers sued Texas in federal court on Monday to halt a new regulation that requires them to dispose of aborted fetal tissue either through burial or cremation, saying the rule is designed to limit abortions in the state.
The regulation, to take effect on Dec. 19, would also require hospitals and other medical facilities to bury or cremate miscarried fetuses. It is seen by women's health providers as part of a nationwide agenda to place new restrictions on abortions.
"The Regulation has no public health benefit. It does nothing to improve public health or safety ... rather, it is a pretext for restricting abortion access," according to a lawsuit filed by Whole Women's Health and others in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
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The Health and Human Services Commission has said in a statement the state "developed new rules to ensure Texas law maintains the highest standards of human dignity."
Republicans opposed to abortion have proposed new restrictions on the procedure in several states after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down regulations in Texas.
The lawsuit claims thefetal tissue measure "imposes a funeral ritual" on women who have a miscarriage or an abortion, whether they want it or not. It would also require women who miscarried at places such as their homes to arrange for burials.
Abortion rights groups contend the regulations could impinge on funeral homes in the socially conservative state, which might face a backlash if they are perceived as being aligned with abortion providers.
The Texas limitations would be far more stringent than regulations in almost every other state, which allow aborted fetal tissue to be disposed of in a similar fashion to human tissue, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group whose data is used by both sides in the debate.
The Supreme Court said in its June decision key provisions of the law - requiring abortion doctors to have difficult-to-obtain "admitting privileges" at a local hospital and requiring clinics to have costly hospital-grade facilities - violated a woman's right to an abortion.
Since the law was passed in late 2013, the number of abortion clinics in Texas, the second most-populous U.S. state with about 27 million people, had dropped from 41 to 19, court documents showed.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Matthew Lewis)