If a baby is born dead, should it get a birth certificate? Well now they may, according to a new policy from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, who had previously refused to issue birth certificates for stillborns.
The policy change is the result of a year-long campaign by a Norwich couple who desperately wanted a birth certificate for their stillborn daughter. The mother's reasoning hinges on the fact that the state issues death certificates for stillborn babies:
[The mother] disputes the notion allowing birth certificates opens the debate over abortion. On the contrary, she contends, it's the state that does that by insisting on the issuance of a death certificate.
"If my baby was born still, and they give me a death certificate, aren't they then saying she was alive before she born?" [the mother] asked. (Hackett)
Are they? I imagine that the death certificate is issued for record keeping purposes, to record the fact that a baby emerged from the womb dead... but, much as it annoys me, I see her point. Death is an action one can't take if one never was alive. The state erred in issuing death certificates.
What are the implications of this change in policy? For now, they may be next to nothing, since the legislature won't touch the issue:
State Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, introduced legislation earlier this year that would have put Connecticut on the same level as 11 other states with laws allowing for the issuance of stillborn birth certificates. Her proposal, however, was killed in committee -- never even being called for public hearing. (Hackett)
Still, there's a lot about this policy shift that should make pro-choice advocates in Connecticut wary. This is a small victory for those who believe in life before birth, it blurs the lines between life and pre-life, and it exposes the mistake Connecticut has been making in issuing death certificates to stillborns. The most worrying thing, though, is the group behind the effort, Heavenly Angels. The mother, Michelle Sanford of Norwich, is the state's representative to the nationwide organization. This is a deeply Christian support group for parents of stillborns, as this quote from the site's homepage demonstrates:
Most often of the time a grieving parent finds themselves in despair and is completely troubled by the loss of his/her angel. We know all to well this feeling and we are here to say that Jesus can heal your broken heart.
They also claim that their campaign to issue birth certificates for stillborns is not in any way connected to the debate over abortion rights, but read this statement from the founder and judge for yourself:
Does it matter who sponsors your bill? Democrat or Republican? Yes and No. I chose to get a Republican because I felt that they would understand my fight due to the understanding that republicans normally do not believe in abortions therefore they would be more sensative to my story and others.
There's a simple solution here, which is to issue certificates of stillbirth, instead of a birth certificate and a death certificate. This is what the British do. This recognizes the special circumstances of a still birth without giving fodder to either side of the abortion debate. Perhaps when Sen. Prague resubmits this bill next year, this could be her proposal instead.
Hackett, Ray. "Couple's stillborn child to get birth certificate." Norwich Bulletin 31 May, 2005.