(HARRISBURG, Pa.) -- Come Sept. 5, 2011, Pennsylvania will become the 31st state to offer the birth certificates for stillborns upon request.
The push for states to offer Certificates of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth started in Arizona in 1999 with Joanne Cacciatore, a trauma and grief counselor in Phoenix and mother of Cheyenne, who died about 15 minutes before she was born.
"No one else should have to go through what I felt when I called the office of records and they told me I didn't have a baby," said Cacciatore, who helped lobby for the Pennsylvania bill. "We need to extend the same compassion to women who experience the death of a baby to families who experience the death of a teenager."
A stillbirth, Cacciatore said, is no less tragic than any other death.
"Very few things are more traumatic than the experience of birth and death at the same time," she said. "A mother then goes home to an empty room, breast milk, postpartum hormones and people's comments. It's a very biologically, socially, and emotionally traumatic experience for women."
Cacciatore said the birth certificate is deeply symbolic; much like a marriage certificate is for gay couples. She also hopes it will incite a change in culture when it comes to talking about stillbirth.
"When people ask me how many children I have, I'll say I have four who walk and one who soars," she said. "The love of a parent transcends death. Just because she died at birth doesn't make her any less valuable."
But the battle for birth certificates was fraught with opposition, with abortion rights groups arguing they could be used as fodder by anti-abortion activists. However, the law, which makes the certificate available upon request following non-elective terminations, does not seek to define when life begins.
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