New Florida law will provide certificates for miscarriages

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida will become the first state to issue what’s essentially a birth certificate to women who’ve had miscarriages, an idea that received broad support among Democrats and Republicans despite concerns from the National Organization for Women that it was an attempt to define life for fetuses that couldn’t survive outside the womb.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill titled the “Grieving Families Act” Wednesday that will allow the state to start issuing “certificates of nonviable birth” beginning July 1 if parents request them. They would be available to women whose pregnancies end after nine weeks and before 20 weeks of gestation.

“At any stage, a parent that loses a child loses a part of themselves,” said Republican Rep. Bob Cortes, the bill sponsor.

Pregnancies that end at 20 weeks or later are considered stillbirths, and death certificates must be issued in Florida and many other states. Florida parents also may request a birth certificate in such cases. And while a handful of states allow death certificates for miscarriages, Cortes’ staff researched laws in the 49 other states and found none issued the equivalent of a birth certificate in such cases.

The Florida chapter of NOW fought the bill, arguing that it was just an effort to advance the definition of when life begins.

“Unfortunately we were pretty much the only ones willing to step up on this bill in Tallahassee,” said Florida NOW President Terry Sanders. “We know the anti-choice movement has well thought these tiny steps toward their goal of denying women reproductive freedom.”

But Democrats, who usually fight any effort, however small, to make abortion rights more restrictive, widely supported the bill. It passed unanimously in the Senate and with only one no vote in the House. Planned Parenthood was neutral on the bill.

Cortes said he worked with Democrats on the bill’s final language to make sure they were comfortable that it wasn’t related to the abortion debate.

“I’ve made it clear since Day 1 that this was not intended to be anything other than to give parents an opportunity to obtain a certificate when they lose a child,” Cortes said. “It’s not something that’s being mandated. It’s not required for everybody to do. We’re not defining life.”

He said he was inspired by his wife, Virginia, who runs a nonprofit organization that turns donated wedding dresses into burial gowns for stillborn children and babies that die soon after birth. She also volunteers at a local hospital to help parents grieving after a miscarriage and the issue of certificates repeatedly came up, he said.

Democratic Rep. Richard Stark, the only lawmaker to vote against the nonviable birth certificates said he was concerned that the bill was a backdoor way to get into the argument of defining when life begins, but there was a second, more personal reason he opposed the bill. Stark was adopted as an infant in New York and still can’t get an original copy of his birth certificate.

He also sponsored a bill to unseal birth certificates of adults adopted as children and it went nowhere, which made voting to give fetuses a certificate that much more unpalatable.

“They get a certificate. I’m almost 65 years old — I can’t get my birth certificate,” said Stark. “It was almost like a slap in the face to me because I couldn’t even get my bill heard.”