Stillbirth certificates?

Whom do they help more, grieving parents or abortion opponents?

By Lynn Harris
April 11, 2006 3:54AM (UTC)
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The state of Florida is one House vote away from allowing birth certificates to be issued for stillborn fetuses delivered at at least 20 weeks' gestation. Many supporters of the "Missing Angels" bills, now on the books in 13 states, argue -- convincingly -- that such laws can bring both comfort to grieving families and attention to the underresearched, rarely discussed, often-unexplained and truly tragic phenomenon of stillbirth.

But. You know where this is going. "Opponents [of the bill] worry that the law might carry implications for the abortion debate," reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (scroll down). "But supporters contend that stillbirth involves no voluntary termination and is therefore unrelated."


Of course I see why stillbirth is unrelated to abortion on its face. I completely believe that -- let's say -- grieving parents who launch or support such initiatives do so without an outside agenda. Nor am I particularly against making a birth certificate available, as long as it remains an option, not a requirement. I know that my friends and message-board compatriots who've had stillborn deliveries (some very, horribly late) think of those babies as, yes, babies. Of course they do: These pregnancies were planned, or at least welcomed; these children-to-be had names. That doesn't have to be a political statement. Nor does a symbolic birth certificate.

Still, I find it hard to believe that every single lawmaker, say, who backs such legislation could look me -- or one of these mothers -- in the eye and say, "Nope, this has nothing to do with trying to find yet one more way to firm up, in our culture, the notion of a fetus of any age as a child." I find it hard to believe that some opportunistic supporters of such bills do not, every so often, rub their hands together in cartoon bad-guy glee. And I find it hard to stomach the notion -- though it's hardly new or far-fetched -- of such people trafficking, in this way, in other people's tragedy.

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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