A Sad Subject

Legislation often begins with a concern or a question from a constituent. He or she draws on experiences or ideas to identify matters that need fixing: something the Federal Government does, something it could do better, or something it does not do that should be considered.

The following story, which inspired a bill I have introduced, is a sad one.

I attended the Washington County fair this year on several occasions, and at one point while there I was approached by a grieving grandmother named Fern Puckett. She pulled me aside and asked to speak with me privately for a moment. Ms. Puckett then related the details of a family tragedy, compounded by an unfair consequence of the laws currently on the books.

She spoke about her daughter, who went for a regular checkup when she was eight months pregnant. As the medical team started doing their tests, it was clear something was wrong, and the doctor soon informed her that her baby had died. The doctors induced labor, she went through active childbirth, and gave birth to her stillborn child. She spent hours cradling her baby. The family then made arrangements for the baby’s burial.

The loss of this baby was a tragedy. Unfortunately, this was one of about 24,000 stillbirths that occur annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Stillbirths constitute about 1% of all pregnancies, and when they occur, the reasons for them are frequently unclear.

The tragedy was made more difficult for the family by the different treatment of stillborn babies under the law compared to children who, even if dying tragically minutes after birth, were born alive. Parents of the latter are eligible for the Child Tax Credit for one year, but parents of the former are not.

As Ms. Puckett pointed out, this is unfair to the families of stillborn babies. The mother carries her baby for months, the family prepares for the baby’s arrival (room preparation, cribs, clothes, etc.), and even though the child has died, the families are subject to bills for their and their child’s care throughout the pregnancy. In addition, some families of stillborn babies pay for funerals, as Ms. Puckett’s family did. All told, the bills amount to a substantial financial expense. The emotional costs can’t be quantified but are high, and the financial costs are also difficult.

As she told her story, I teared up. The grandmother asked if I could do something about this situation. At the end, I told her that she was right and that I intended to see what could be done.

As a result of that conversation, I introduced a bill to extend the Child Tax Credit for the year of birth to the parents of an involuntarily stillborn baby. The legislation uses the Centers for Disease Control definition of stillbirth as the loss of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy. When a mother carries a baby for that length of time, she should be eligible for the same benefits as a mother whose child passed away shortly after birth. And when parents are eligible for the Child Tax Credit for a whole year if their child arrives at 11:59pm on December 31, the parents of a stillborn baby should benefit from the Child Tax Credit for a year as well.

The time to act in this Congress is growing short, so I intend to reintroduce this legislation at the beginning of the next Congress as well. It is important as a matter of fairness to address the different treatment for the parents of stillborn babies, so I am committed to pursuing this bill.

Hopefully, few parents will have to cite this reason to claim the child tax credit when my bill passes. The Centers for Disease Control notes that medical advances have sharply reduced late and term stillbirths over the past 30 years, but there are thousands of stillbirths that still occur without a clear medical explanation.

Fern Puckett said of the bill, “I recognize that this is not going to help us, but hopefully it will help someone in the future.” As long as stillbirths remain an unfortunate possible outcome of pregnancy, the parents should be treated fairly.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.