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Nebraska Passes Law Recognizing Miscarriage Before 20 Weeks

Photograph by Twenty20

Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts recently signed a bill that would allow families who have had a pregnancy loss before 20 weeks of gestation to request a commemorative certificate of "non-viable birth."

While supporters see this as a step forward in recognizing pregnancy loss, opponents of similar bills have argued that this type of legislation is a stepping stone to limiting abortions. Others wondered if the state should be involved at all.

The bill, called LB 1040, was supported by Jennifer and Andy Sommers, who suffered three pregnancy losses of their own and hoped the bill might be a way to help families heal. In Nebraska, official birth certificates are issued if a family suffers the loss of a pregnancy at or after 20 weeks. But before that, families don't receive any "official" paperwork about their loss. And as anyone who has experienced a miscarriage knows, it can be a very isolating experience. Strangers and even family and friends might downplay the loss because it was "early," which can feel devastating to suffering families.

The certificates are optional and only issued at the request of the family. They are free of charge and have no legal effect. As the official bill description explains, the certificates are meant to be only commemorative in nature and won't be used in state birth statistics.

Put into action, the bill mandates that any health practitioner who diagnoses a pregnancy ending before 20 weeks offer the woman or family the option to request the nonviable birth certificate if she would like. The family can choose to have the certificate list the baby's gender and name, if they would like. If they don't want to include that or don't know the name or gender, the certificate can simply read "Baby Last Name." The certificate will state that it is not proof of a live birth.

Supporters of the bill say it is an important step to bringing the sometime hidden pain and struggle of miscarriage to light, as well as recognizing and validating the loss in a more "official" way. For example, Senator Joni Albrecht, who introduced the bill, praised the bill for providing a means to recognize the loss that occurs when a pregnancy comes to an end.

"Every pregnancy loss is a tragedy that has a profound impact on women and entire families. Yet most go unrecognized," she told the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star.

However, not everyone is lauding the bill as an important step in recognizing miscarriage. Instead, others are cautioning that the bill isn't only about honoring families' wishes, but that it's actually a step toward restrictions on abortions.

The National Organization of Women in Florida opposed a similar bill, arguing that by "officially" recognizing early losses, legislators are trying to re-define when life begins and, thus, limiting when abortions can be performed.

Senators who questioned the Nebraska bill asked if the state should be involved in issuing certificates in those situations.

The bill was passed by a vote of 44-1-3 in the Nebraska Legislature on April 18.

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