By Mary Kathleen O’Connor

Mothers of stillborn children endure the unimaginable hardship of carrying a child in pregnancy only to learn their little boy or girl died before birth. For many parents in Pennsylvania, the devastation over the death of their child is combined with confusion and anger that upon the child’s delivery, a fetal death certificate will be the only official remembrance of their little one’s life.

This will soon change in Pennsylvania. Beginning in September, parents of stillborn children will be able to file for a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth along with the fetal death certificate. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) supported this life-affirming legislation since it was first introduced by Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre) in 2007. The bill was introduced a total of three times. Finally in this session, it passed unanimously in both the House and Senate and was signed into law. In previous legislative sessions, the bill never left the state House of Representatives. {{more}}

Pro-abortion lawmakers in the past refused to move the legislation in the House out of fear that it could be construed as an anti-abortion measure. The controversy surrounded the bill’s use of the term “child.” In July 2008, an amendment was introduced to remove the term “child” from the legislation and replace it with the term “fetus.”

Pro-life advocates, including the PCC, stressed that this bill would have no impact on current abortion law.

Proponents of the legislation do not see the issue as either “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” To them, including the term “child” is important to grieving parents. Pro-life supporters herald the bill because it acknowledges the humanity of the youngest among us.

Sen. Corman, the sponsor of the bill, said, “Stillbirths are a tragedy for parents, and oftentimes they feel no sense of closure or healing because there is no documentation of their child’s birth.”

A spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett said the governor “felt it was important to sign the stillbirth bill to help the mothers and fathers who go through the difficult and tragic loss of a stillborn child. Having a certificate is something that many grieving parents who have lived through stillbirth feel is important because it recognizes the life of their child. The Department of Health has had requests in the past for these, and now Pennsylvania can honor those requests.”

The National Institutes of Health estimates that there are more than 26,000 stillborn births each year in the United States. Stillborn births can be the result of many factors in a woman’s pregnancy, including umbilical cord accidents, but the cause of many stillborn births remains unknown.

In September, Pennsylvania will become the 28th state in the nation to offer a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth. These certificates will be available for all parents of stillborn children, including those parents who had endured stillborn births in the past. The parents will be given the option to include the name of the child, names of the parents and place of birth on the certificate. More information is available at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Web site:

O’Connor is the summer intern for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania. Find more information at