Nebraska has created a unique path for women and families to show reverence for the loss of children in the womb. Other state legislatures should follow.
In Nebraska, any woman who has suffered a miscarriage of her child during a pregnancy that a state-licensed health professional has confirmed is eligible to receive a commemorative birth certificate for the child, without regard to when the miscarriage occurred. So even women who suffered a miscarriage many years ago may request the certificates. Nebraska’s law is the first of its kind to require no minimum gestational period and to be retroactive.
Nebraska state Sen. Joni Albrecht introduced Legislative Bill 1040 on January 17, 2018, and Gov. Pete Ricketts signed it into law on April 17. The state’s unicameral legislature affirmed the bill nearly unanimously, with only one no vote, from state Sen. Bob Krist, the Democratic candidate for governor.
During legislative debate and committee hearings on the bill, Nebraska mothers who have suffered miscarriages testified about the pain of their child loss. Notably, senators Suzanne Geist and Lydia Brasch also testified about losing children through miscarriage.
Brasch testified: “On my 30th birthday, this is how I remember my great pain. I was at work, things started to go wrong. I spent my 30th birthday in the hospital. I had miscarried. What came out of that event, though, I had two nurses. One nurse came in, she did her job, did this, fluffed the pillow, left the room. And I cried a river, I cried a river that night. And I don’t like to think about it a whole lot.”
“But another nurse came in—‘Honey, are you okay? Do you need anything? Would you like a back rub? You’ll be all right. It’s okay, honey.’ And when I left that hospital I thought, I want to be that good nurse someday. I’ll pay this forward. And so I’ve tried to be…I’m not a nurse, I don’t have a license to practice. But I want to be that good nurse. And if that good nurse is helping another mother heal, forgetting about a 30th birthday that went bad, I’ll stand for this bill.”
Geist testified: “Miscarriages don’t discriminate against race, religion, or political party. Many times it’s unknown why a miscarriage happens, as many happen early in pregnancy. When a mother sees a positive pregnancy test, her world is changed forever. For those women who grieve the loss of their child, miscarriage in early pregnancy, does that mean it hurts less?”
“Who gets to decide that one woman’s miscarriage at 20 weeks and one day is more worthy of a commemoration than the child miscarried at 19 weeks and 6 days? […] If that mother grieves that loss she would be allowed to honor her child, no matter the week of gestation,” Geist said. “And the reason this is personal to me is I still remember every January 5th. That date commemorates for us the loss of one of our sons at 16 weeks. It was devastating. And my guess is that many other of my female colleagues may share a devastating loss that’s similar. I support this legislation because it honors a child. It also validates grief, and it provides a step in the healing process for the mother.”
The Nebraska Family Alliance supported the bill. In a press release, NFA’s Policy Director Nate Grasz says: “The grief of that loss [from miscarriage] is as real as the life itself… Nebraska [is] an innovative leader in supporting grieving families while recognizing the dignity and humanity of the unborn at the earliest stages of development.”
During the bill’s debate, opposition came from Krist, the lone no vote, and from Sen. Ernie Chambers, who ultimately voted yes. In debate on the floor, Krist said, “I want to make sure we want to put all the pro-life people on notice that what you voted for was a healing mechanism, but if you truly believe in what you say in pro-life, that’s a death certificate.”
“It more or less commemorates a Catholic doctrinal position, doesn’t it?” asked Chambers. He must be unaware that both science and religion consider miscarried children human.
This law certainly cannot bring back a child a mother lost. And it cannot undo the pain of child loss. But it helps validate the grief mothers who suffer miscarriages feel, and recognizes the reality that a human being has lived and died, and been born. It takes a step toward recognizing that the unborn child is a living person. Other state legislatures should consider enacting similar laws and improving on them.
The law also does not appear to require state spending beyond the processing of the certificate—which is paid by the applicant.
Nebraskan women can request commemorative birth certificates at this link. The fee for the certificate may not exceed the actual cost for issuing it, which is currently $19. Nebraska’s law has not been in effect long, and its efficacy is not yet known. But if the law provides comfort to grieving families and promotes a culture of life, it will have been a success.