Revelations that National Health Service hospitals in the U.K. have disposed of the bodies of miscarried or aborted children by incineration as clinical waste show the need to reject abortion and to respect life, pro-life leaders said.

"We hope that this tragic and distressing story will cause the mask that exists to disguise the humanity of the unborn to slip, causing society to reflect more deeply on the value of human life and what it means to be human," Carolyn Farrow, a commentator with Catholic Voices, told CNA March 25.

She said the report is cause for wider conversation about abortion's implications, given the government's efforts to expand legal abortion.

"We should not forget the almost 200,000 babies who are lost to abortion every year in the U.K., almost all of whom will have had their remains treated in a similar fashion."

At least 15,500 fetal remains have been incinerated by 27 National Health Service trusts in the last two years, the Channel 4 program Dispatches reported, with some remains disposed of as "clinical waste."

One leading hospital, Addenbroke's in Cambridge, incinerated 797 babies who died under 13 weeks into pregnancy at a "waste to energy" plant that is used to heat the hospital. The babies' mothers were told the remains had been cremated, The Telegraph reported March 24.

Another facility at Ipswich Hospital incinerated 1,101 fetal remains brought from another hospital in a "waste to energy" program.

Farrow said that fetal remains "should be accorded the same dignity and respect as (those of) any other human being."

"We are all made equally in the image and likeness of God."

Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said March 25 the hospital practices were "appalling" and connected to legal abortion.

"We must stop killing babies like these by abortion and then we will know how to respect the dead," he said, noting that the unborn have "all the essential attributes of a person from conception," though these characteristics are still in development.

"If we feel differently about the unborn, it is simply because he or she is a stranger – someone we have not yet met or developed affection for."

Farrow said Catholic Voices reacted to the story with "revulsion and horror … this is the stuff of dystopian horror movies."

"The practice of abortion is frequently compared with the Holocaust, due to the large numbers of children discarded as unwanted and the callous disregard for human life."

"The ruthless efficiency with which these babies were exploited as a means to an end and used as a form of fuel, stripping them of the dignity and respect they were due as human beings, could indeed have been dreamt up by the Nazi regime."

U.K. health minister Dan Poulter said the practices were "totally unacceptable," and the Department of Health immediately banned the practice.

The Channel 4 Dispatches episode about the practices was led by presenter Amanda Holdren, who previously suffered both a stillbirth and miscarriage.

Her report also examined poor treatment of mothers and couples whose pregnancies miscarried; many were not consulted about how to dispose of their child's remains.

Tully suggested that the reluctance to consult families is "undoubtedly linked to our barbaric abortion policies."

"There are two issues at stake here. One is the feelings of the parents, and the other is the respect due to the dead – in this case a dead unborn child, killed by abortion or who has died as a result of spontaneous miscarriage."

Farrow praised the quick action to end the disrespectful disposal of fetal remains, but questioned why the National Health Service did not question the morality of the practice before it became public.

She said the ban "does not go far enough," as private abortion clinics still dispose of aborted children as "clinical waste alongside soiled dressings, gloves and equipment."

"We would like to see abortion clinics be subject to similar regulations in terms of not only informing the parents as what will happen to their unborn children but also offering them a choice of dignified options as to what to do with their baby's remains."

Farrow offered prayers and "deepest sympathies and condolences" to those whose children's remains were mistreated, also offering prayer and condolences "to anyone who has suffered the tragedy of miscarriage or infant loss of any kind."