Published October 5, 2022
As of 2020, it is illegal in Vermont to place food scraps in the trash can. Instead, all residents and businesses must compost all of their food waste — or else they must trek, with their scraps in tow, to one of the state’s drop-off stations for proper disposal. The compost requirement is just one element of Vermont’s universal recycling law, which forbids the disposal of recyclables, yard waste, and food in the ordinary trash.
Progressives love to regulate the purchase, use, and disposal of everyday items. Several states have banned plastic bags entirely, while others require stores to impose a per-bag fee. Several hundred localities have enacted policies taxing or banning disposable bags in states that have declined to craft such regulations.
When they aren’t eliminating plastic bags or forcing you to pay for the privilege of using them, left-wing politicians are taxing or banning plastic straws in restaurants and coffee shops. Paper straws it is then, and those should be dumped right in the recycling bin — or is it compost? — after you finish the soda that your local government may well have taxed at a higher rate.
There are very few things that progressives are uninterested in regulating, taxing, or otherwise censuring. One major exception: the business of eliminating “unwanted” human beings prior to birth. In Vermont, home of the country’s most aggressive waste-disposal regime, a state where it is now illegal to place your food waste in the wastebin, there is no law requiring the respectful disposal of fetal remains after an abortion.
The abortion industry and its activist allies appear to find it abhorrent that unborn children might be given a proper burial or cremation after meeting their demise in abortion clinics across the country.
Just last week, a federal district judge ruled that an Indiana law requiring respectful disposal of aborted babies violated the First Amendment rights of women who had abortions in the state and wished not to dispose of their children’s remains as anything other than medical waste.
Indiana’s law requires that abortion clinics offer mothers the choice either to take their baby’s remains with them after an abortion or to choose whether the clinic will bury or cremate those remains. If the mother declines to choose, the abortion clinic may pick either burial or cremation.
In Doe No. 1 v. Attorney General of Indiana, three abortion providers and two women who had abortions at the providers’ clinics sued Indiana, arguing that the law violates their rights to free exercise and free speech because their beliefs prevent them from choosing burial or cremation. As Ed Whelan explained, Doe 1 “holds a moral, rather than religious, belief that fetal tissue is not the remains of a person,” while Doe 3 holds a religious belief that “life begins at the first breath,” which supposedly requires that the aborted fetus be “disposed of by standard medical means.” His post went on to articulate some legal problems with the judge’s reasoning in siding with these plaintiffs.
Challenging fetal-disposal laws is nothing new for abortion supporters. Since long before Roe v. Wade was overturned, abortion clinics have opposed state laws requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains, calling them an improper restriction of the supposed constitutional right to abortion.
But while judges have often ruled in favor of this argument and blocked respectful-disposal laws, no one has ever quite managed to articulate exactly how these policies infringe on abortion. The laws don’t prohibit abortion, nor do they require women to dispose of their deceased child themselves. At its most burdensome, such a policy simply requires abortion providers to ask a pregnant mother if she prefers a certain disposal method and, if she declines to choose, to follow through on one of the options on its own.
There has never been a sound legal case against these laws. But, as with most things pertaining to abortion, the legality was never the point. Opposition to treating the dead unborn child with dignity stems not from any religious belief or legal doctrine but rather from the understanding that, if we are to accept abortion, we must maintain the fiction that the child isn’t a child at all. It would be far too gruesome to expect a woman to go through with an abortion after being asked to decide how she’d like to dispose of the tiny body of her dead child.
Maintaining the fiction of abortion as a simple matter of “the right to choose” or “women’s health care” requires choosing not to see what is before our eyes. To save the planet, we must dutifully separate our garbage in neatly demarcated receptacles. To save abortion, we must throw our children out with medical waste.
EPPC Fellow Alexandra DeSanctis writes on culture and family issues, with a particular focus on abortion policy and pro-life advocacy, as a member of the Life and Family Initiative.