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LB1040: Grieving mothers, life-affirming legislation

State Senators advanced LB1040, legislation which provides commemorative birth certificates for families who experience miscarriage prior to 20 weeks gestation. LB1040 received unanimous support from the Health & Human Services Committee after heart wrenching testimony from “Warrior Moms” who shared experiences of miscarrying their unborn children. While the legislation had overwhelming support during first round of debate, several Senators voiced hostility. The legislation has two more rounds of legislative debate.

Background on LB1040. LB1040 was introduced and prioritized by Sen. Joni Albrecht (District 17). Currently, under state law, Nebraska offers birth certificates for stillbirths that occur at or after 20 weeks of gestation. However, prior to 20 weeks, there is no recognition of an unborn child’s life, if there is a miscarriage. LB1040 seeks to extend the period of recognition.

LB1040 would allow a family to receive a certificate of nonviable birth following a miscarriage. The doctor would be required to verify that a pregnancy existed either by a letter or form created by the Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”). The family could submit the letter or form to DHHS, after which they would receive a certificate.

Similar legislation to LB1040 exists only in Florida. However, Florida restricts the nonviable birth certificates for women who miscarry during their ninth week of pregnancy and beyond. Nebraska would be the first state to allow for nonviable birth certificates at any point in the pregnancy.

A nonviable birth certificate under LB1040 could include the child’s name and the child’s sex, if known.

The Need for LB1040. Last year, Sen. Albrecht introduced and prioritized the Compassion and Care for Medically Challenging Pregnancies Act. This legislation was passed into law and provides a mother the opportunity to receive information about perinatal hospice care when a physician diagnoses her unborn child with a lethal fetal anomaly that would likely result in the loss of her baby within three months after birth.

Last year’s legislative hearing brought out many mothers, known as “Warrior Moms,” to discuss the challenging pregnancies they faced. This hearing also demonstrated the need to support mothers who experience miscarriages.

At LB1040’s legislative hearing, “Warrior Moms” once again lined up to testify about the loss of their children. Jennifer Sommer, founder and director of HEALing Embrace, began her testimony with a twist on the famous rhyme, “First comes love, then comes marriage, but instead of a baby in a baby carriage, they had miscarriage after miscarriage.” Sommer’s somberly added: “My babies never needed carriages, they only needed caskets.”

Mother after mother shared similar testimonies. They described joys experienced and dreams shattered. They recounted the sorrow of bad news received from a doctor and the physical and emotional pains of miscarrying their child, oftentimes in solitude.

These mothers discussed the importance of having their unborn child’s life recognized and how a state-issued certificate could assist in the desire for recognition. They noted that a certificate could also assist in the grieving process. As our friends at the Nebraska Family Alliance have written: “Creating a culture of life means honoring the little lives lost in miscarriage, as well as the families who grieve.”

Hostility toward LB1040. As beautiful as LB1040 is, it has been visited by hostility. LB1040’s first round of debate followed on the heels of debate on the Title X provision, language in the statewide budget that prohibits taxpayer dollars from subsidizing abortion services. Several Senators, who were seemingly disgruntled by the outcome of Title X, used LB1040 as a soapbox for venting their frustrations. Included among these Senators were Kate Bolz (Lincoln), John McCollister (Omaha), and Paul Schumacher (Columbus). Simply put, their comments were distasteful and disparaging.

In response, thankfully, several Senators (Joni Albrecht, Suzanne Geist, Theresa Thibodeau, Lydia Brasch, Lou Ann Linehan) discussed their personal, motherly experiences with pregnancy, some of which resulted in miscarriages. Their stories further highlighted the importance of recognition of the unborn child’s life.

The legislation must still advance through two more stages of legislative debate and be signed by the Governor before it will go into law. Please contact your State Senator and let them know you support this small, but important legislation.

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