Senate OKs birth certificates for stillborns
May 16, 2007
By Steve Peoples and Elizabeth Gudrais
Journal State House Bureau
PROVIDENCE — There was no debate before the vote on Senate Bill 174 yesterday.
That’s not because no one cared. The bill to give birth certificates to parents of stillborns is the Silva family’s 2007 legislative priority.
Richard Silva, of Warren, has made at least five trips to the State House in recent months to help change the law that denied his son and daughter legal proof that Christopher Michael Silva existed. The nurses took pictures, cut a lock of his hair, and made footprints. But in the eyes of the law, the infant was not born.
The Senate yesterday voted unanimously to change that law. The House of Representatives did the same earlier in the month.
“Now I need to get in and see the governor,” said Silva, a grandfather turned lobbyist, looking down on the Senate from his front-row seat in the public gallery yesterday.
If ultimately signed by the governor, the law would allow the parents of stillborns at 20 weeks of gestation or more to request birth certificates. There were 85 such fetal deaths in Rhode Island in 2005, the most recent data available from the state Health Department.
The Silvas were guided in their two-year quest to change Rhode Island law by the MISS Foundation, an Arizona-based organization accused by the National Organization for Women of trying to establish “fetal personhood” on behalf of abortion opponents. The foundation denies an antiabortion agenda.
MISS has successfully worked with lawmakers and families of stillborns to pass similar legislation in more than a dozen states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Silvas’ powerful story successfully brought together Rhode Island lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
“You can make a lot of things into a lot of things, tie a lot of things to a lot of organizations, but if you just listen to the words that this couple said, it’s not an issue of pro-life or pro-choice,” said Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, who is pro-choice.
Had the Silvas’ full-term baby taken even one breath outside the womb, the family would have been issued a birth certificate with his name. But he did not, and they received only a certificate of fetal loss.
“These individuals just wanted a certificate where they could name the child,” said bill sponsor Sen. Walter Felag, D-Warren. “It’s an emotional issue.”
Meanwhile, the House yesterday passed a bill that would force Rhode Islanders who get traffic tickets dismissed to pay a little extra out of their own pockets.
The bill would force drivers to pay $25 for court costs when invoking the so-called “good-driving defense” to get out of speeding tickets and other moving violations.
Cities and towns that handle traffic violations through their municipal courts routinely charge for court costs even when drivers use this defense. Requiring the state Traffic Tribunal to collect the same charge will bring in a projected $53,000 a month in additional revenue, House Finance Chairman Steven M. Costantino said.
The revenue-raising proposal was part of the governor’s budget, but the Finance Committee pulled it out for separate passage to start bringing in the additional money as soon as possible. Lawmakers learned last week that they must plug a projected $300-million budget hole for next fiscal year, besides reconciling the budget for the current year, which ends June 30.
Rhode Island drivers can invoke the good-driving defense once every three years if they have had no moving violations in between. The defense cannot be used on several more serious categories of moving violations — for instance, violations involving school buses; tickets for exceeding the speed limit by more than 14 mph; tickets that result from accidents involving property damage or personal injury; and anything state law deems a criminal offense.