Certificates wanted for stillborn babies
Abel Maldonado is backing a proposal to issue special documents to parents
By Bob Cuddy
For Sunita and Jason Olazabal, the pregnancy had been “beautiful,” as Jason puts it. Thirty-eight weeks with no problems. But two weeks before the due date last year, the couple went in for a routine checkup. The doctor could not find a fetal heartbeat. The parents-to be saw a second doctor: still no heartbeat. Doctors induced labor, and 24 hours later Soraya Carolina Olazabal was born— not breathing.
Thus, the Olazabals joined the 3,000 other California families each year who give birth to a stillborn child. There are 39,000 stillbirths annually nationwide — one in every 100 births. Until now, such parents have been issued a death certificate. But a nationwide movement to recognize their pain as well as acknowledge the child has reached the California Legislature, after prevailing in 18 states. However, it has become caught up in the politics of abortion.
The proposal is Senate Bill 850, known as the Missing Angels Act. It would allow parents whose children were stillborn to receive a “certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth.”
The bill passed the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday after hours of negotiation. It would allow families to receive a “certificate of still birth.” The bill is expected to move forward to the Senate Judiciary Committee later this month.
Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, a chief sponsor, says he decided to carry the bill after hearing stories of women who have been affected. And as the father of four children, he says he understands how painful it would be to lose a pregnancy.
The bill’s proponents say it helps comfort the parents who are devastated by the loss of their child. Jason Olazabal, whose child was stillborn Nov. 3, says it is a shattering experience. Having nothing left but a death certificate is a bleak outcome, he says.
Recovering from the stillbirth, he says five months after the experience, is still “moment to moment.When we left the hospital, it was very tough. Early on, it was very somber; now the days are better.”
“Her life, as short as it was, was real,” he says of his child.
Though waning, grief can be triggered unexpectedly, he says. “Walking down the street and seeing a baby carriage can trigger it,” he says. Going to a Dodgers game this spring brought up memories from a year ago, when he and his wife had planned to attend a game this year with their new baby, clad in pink.
The certificate won’t bring back their child, but it will acknowledge the child’s existence, he says. “It’s a little something else.” Therein, opponents say, lies the potential problem. “We want to be compassionate, and we totally empathize with women who have experienced this,” says Ana Sandoval, with the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. “But any time you’re dealing with vital statistics, there can be unintended consequences.”
Opponents fear that the bill has the potential to change the legal definition of when a fetus becomes a person, which could lead to limits on a woman’s reproductive rights. Sandoval’s organization is working with Maldonado and other legislators to bridge this gap. To the Olazabals, the political discussion is academic. To them, this is about the pain of having a stillborn child. They have formed a support group in Santa Monica where they live, and have found other parents who have gone through the same heartbreak.
After Wednesday’s committee vote, Maldonado said in a written statement he was “frustrated that we had to concede to opposing groups so much.”
Staff writer AnnMarie Cornejo contributed to this report.