What Is The Definition Of Birth?

There has been a legislative trend sweeping through states which would offer parents whose children are stillborn the option of a quasi-birth certificate along with the standard death certificate. It seems likely to become the law in New York fairly soon, which would make it the 24th state to offer grieving parents some option of state recognition other than a death certificate. It's all so soft and fuzzy and the right thing to do, it's enough to make you wonder why it hasn't passed all 50 states yet. Yeah, well, there are issues. There are always issues. The problem is that state legislators are often incredibly imprecise in the language they choose, so while abortion-rights organizations like the bills in theory, the practice is often thornier. Roger Evans with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America told the New York Times last year:

At a level of great abstraction, there are probably some people who worry that recognizing a nonviable fetus as a person would in some way be a seed that could sprout into a threat to abortion," said Roger Evans, a lawyer for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "But I don't think we see it that way. We recognize the tragedy and loss of stillbirth, and as long as these laws are medically accurate, and the certificates are optional and commemorative, they’re a way to recognize that loss."

The choice phrases in there are "medically accurate" and "optional and commemorative," by the way, because Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups don't want women who choose to terminate their pregnancies after the 20th week (when a miscarriage becomes a stillbirth) to be handed birth certificates. The New York bill contains the language "naturally occurring intrauterine death," for instance, while the California bill (which passed last year) initially did not until the state Planned Parenthood organization threatened to oppose it.

The nationwide effort to get states to provide a document that says "Certificate of Birth" (even if it thereafter contains a caveat that said birth was a stillbirth) is being spearheaded by the M.I.S.S. Foundation, which calls the legislation the MISSing Angels Bill. The co-opting of Christian religious imagery might be one reason that some veterans of the reproductive rights movement are ever-so-slightly suspicious of the motivations of the organization, a suspicion that its founder, Joanne Cacciatore, says is unfounded. She told the New York Times last year that she started the organization to support other women who had suffered through stillbirths and that there are no ulterior motives.

Anyway, the point of writing this whole thing was mostly to point out that the New York Post article was completely slanted and un-researched and intended to make you feel super-fuzzy about the legislation without delving into why it didn't pass last year or still might not, not that they cared, which is part of the reason that some reproductive rights activists are uncomfortable with the bill in the first place.


Push Is On For Stillbirth Certificates
[NY Post]
A Move for Birth Certificates for Stillborn Babies [NY Times]
Wrenching Politics Surround Stillborns [San Francisco Chronicle]

Related: The M.I.S.S. Foundation
Picture by Gregory L. Tracy for The Pilot