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Pennsylvania To Begin Issuing Birth Certificates for Stillbirths

Pennsylvania To Begin Issuing Birth Certificates for Stillbirths

Last week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed a bill into law which will allow Pennsylvania parents who deliver stillborn babies to receive a birth certificate for their child. †This makes Pennsylvania the 28th state to allow birth certificates for stillbirths, and it is largely because of campaigning by people like Heidi Kauffmann, whose son, Kail, was born dead three weeks before his due date. †Instead of receiving a birth certificate after the tragedy, the Kauffmanns were given a death certificate.

“People think it’s only a piece of paper, but it was kind of like saying he never happened,” Kauffman said. †Her sentiments are echoed by many other parents whose children were born dead, like Sari Edber, a woman who was interviewed back in 2007 for a piece in the New York Times.

“The experience of giving birth and death at the exact same time is something you donít understand unless youíve gone through it,” Edber said. “The day before I was released from the hospital, the doctor came in with the paperwork for a fetal death certificate, and said, ‘Iím sorry, but this is the only document youíll receive.’ In my heart, it didnít make sense. I was in labor. I pushed, I had stitches, my breast milk came in, just like any other mother. And we deserved more than a death certificate.”

For grieving parents, the certificate can provide a needed sense of closure after a horrifying and often unexpected ordeal. †But Pennsylvania’s legislation also makes pro-choice advocates nervous, and rightfully so. †Although the law does not claim to answer an existential question, but rather to provide an absent piece of documentation (the parents can’t apply for a birth certificate, strictly speaking, only a “certificate of birth resulting in death”), the line between stillbirth and abortion is dangerously muddy. †As Irin Carmon writes on Jezebel, “vague language in a stillbirth birth certificate bill could be a slippery slope” to the fetal personhood bills that pro-life advocates have been trying to pass in Colorado.

More complicated still, abortion is legal in Pennsylvania until 24 weeks, but a stillbirth is defined as the death of a fetus anytime after the 20th week. †In Pennsylvania, however, the certificates are optional, which is a promising sign.

In the end, it seems important to allow grieving parents a piece of documentation that can give them a needed sense of closure. †The certificates can also serve as a monument to the child’s existence, however brief. †But legislators should make sure that these laws are written carefully so that a law designed to help mourners through a tragedy does not result in restrictions on another woman’s right to choose.

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Photo from o5com via flickr.

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81 comments

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5:27PM PDT on Aug 24, 2011

No comment except ....really?

5:37PM PDT on Jul 28, 2011

I am very happy to see this becoming a fruition. Stillbirths are excruciatingly painful for the expecting parents. To have to go through the grief and then be denied a certificate is simply wrong. Well done Pennsylvania!

3:59PM PDT on Jul 28, 2011

My third child, Annaya Marie, was stillborn at 37 weeks gestation on August 27, 2010. I am Blessed to live in a state that does allow you to purchase a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth. To some it might seem idiotic to want such a certificate but it says that my daughter was here.

3:20AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Erica, go ahead and post. I'd love to compare notes.

My first pregnancy ended in a stillbirth. I have a book, with footprints, a picture, everything I need to validate that I had him, and his name, Charles Michael. We had a funeral, everything. It was satisfying to know that I didn't go through everything as a hoax. Of course it's one of those souvenir certificates. That is okay. My second son, Chad (now 11), is my blessing bundle, and I don't know what I would do without him, he's my pride and joy, and I love to brag about him, since he's my best boy. I still occasionally think of how it would have been nice to raise the two brothers, who would be 13 months apart, because under any other circumstance, I'd have had TWO live ones. Mom is one thing I love being, and no one can take that from me.

But, I also realize that circumstances out of people's control may necessitate having an abortion, and, we must NOT impede on that reproductive right, under ANY circumstances. We can't know what goes on w/o being in the other person's shoes. and well, I will keep protecting our freedom of choice, no matter what.

Two separate issues, you know?

3:19AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Thank you Diane L & Erica B.!

3:25AM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

ALL well said, Lika! I am pro choice, always have been, but issuing a birth certificate in the case of a stillborn......just don't have a problem with that. The baby grew, it was just not born ALIVE or died shortly before or after the birthing process. To deny a birth certficate, denies it existed at all. To deny the existence of a life a Mother held and was responsible for, for MONTHS is a double whammy, I think.

3:21AM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

I would have had a great comment for this article, but Lika S. took the words right out of my mouth! It's like you probed my brain and pulled out all my thoughts...pretty scary, cause I didn't feel a thing! Lika, I would give you more green stars, but care2 is stingy and says "One green star a week, people!"

3:10AM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

Plus, why the death certificate, if "it" isn't alive in the first place? You have to have life, before you can have death. Obviously, 3 weeks before due date is already a full term baby, a viable life if "it" were able to be born on the spot. So I would say that yeah, if you're going to have a death certificate, why not offer a birth certificate to show that yes, you gave birth to your baby, regardless of if it's live or not?

An aborted one obviously wouldn't get the birth certificate because as the mother you made the conscious decision and effort to end the pregnancy before a viable life could form, much less be sustained.

3:05AM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

Continued:

Sometimes a poor couple, already in dire need, are taking precautions about making sure they don't bring on a child when they are not ready, and oops, malfunction, so they make the choice, and that's okay.

I don't think people should be irresponsible and then because it's available, use their freedom of reproductive choice as a form of birth control. So, by your standard then, if an abuser beats a pregnant woman and she loses her pregnancy, should the abuser get away with forcing her to LOSE the pregnancy because I suppose to you, it's "just a fetus"? Where do you draw the line?

But to deny a mother who wanted to bring home her child a birth certificate is totally disrespecting the motherhood behind the whole ordeal. There is a place where a viable form of life is there, and to say that it doesn't matter is to say that this woman's wish to BE a mother is also of no matter.

It shouldn't have to be an if/that deal, and if the right wingnuts can't understand that, they're disgusting. I'm hoping you're at least good enough to get the difference. If not, then you're no better than they are. Just on the other end of the extreme.

3:02AM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

Irene and Susan,
I am pro-choice. Roe vs. Wade should be upheld. As a mother who lost a baby, I find it insulting that the pre-born are ONLY for abortion stance purposes.

All pro-lifers & pro-choicers alike need to understand something. There IS a HUGE difference between an "unwanted pregnancy" where an abortion is merited for that purpose, and a wanted child where a live birth is anticipated with joy and happiness.

A birth certificate comes in a couple forms, there is the "souvenir" one, that cannot be used for any other purpose than for keepsake, and a legal one that can be used as ID proof. I don't see a problem, especially with the souvenir version, to acknowledge the fact that a baby was born, even if born dead. So would it make a difference if the baby died a minute after birth?

I will never understand why this is always a black/white issue. Those who are anti-choice don't care about the life of the mother, nor the situation. Rape, incest, health of the mother, etc all play a part. A mother who is a parent of a 5 year old, and has cancer and is pregnant, is she supposed to forgo treatment, and die herself to birth the second one leaving the 5 year old motherless? I say if she wants to choose her own life to ensure her 5 year old has a good life, to go for the abortion then. A rape victim should be able to choose if she wants to carry her rapist's pregnancy or not. Sometimes a poor couple, already in dire need, are taking precautions about making

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