Lawmakers in Pennsylvania recently passed a new law that will allow the parents of a stillborn to receive a birth certificate. Until this law goes into effect on September 5th, they will only be eligible to receive a death certificate. The law will apply retroactively to all parents who may have had a stillborn. Similar laws already exist in 27 other states. These laws have met with varying levels of opposition for two main reasons.
One reason comes from other lawmakers who worry that these birth certificates will lead to increased fraud and harder to recognize identity theft. This stems from the idea that since no one will ever need the identities the birth certificates create, they will be easier to steal. This concern has been addressed in that most of these certificates clearly indicate no living person resulted from the birth; they say things like “Certificate of Birth resulting in Stillbirth.” They in some way acknowledge that no living person resulted so there is no reason to be issuing Driver’s Licenses etc to someone presenting this type of birth certificate.
Others worry that giving out birth certificates to stillborns will act as a stepping stone towards eroding abortion rights. They worry that a birth certificate acknowledges that the babies were alive before birth, and this ideology has been used in numerous states to try and push forward personhood legislation. These personhood amendments would grant a fetus the same rights as a born child, from the moment on fertilization. Groups wary of these laws, such as NOW (the National Organization for Women), have expressed acceptance of them as long as these certificates are optional and that they exclude abortions. The new law in Pennsylvania has vague language that has worried some legislators when it comes to abortion rights but it is optional and ultimately it was passed.
Given the present anti-abortion climate created by current lawmakers in the state of Pennsylvania, it is easy to see why some would be concerned about this slippery slope. For now we must hope that this law is not used by those with an extreme anti-abortion stance and that the original intent behind this legislation stands, to give parents closure over a stillborn child.