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A bill that would offer commemorative birth certificates to mothers who suffer miscarriages before the 20th week of pregnancy advanced from first-round debate in the Legislature on Wednesday night. 

But not before many questions on the bill, and stories from senators about their own experiences with failed pregnancies. 

Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft said her first miscarriage happened on her 30th birthday. 

"There's suffering in this world; we talk about it every day in every way," Brasch said. "But if we can make someone feel better, I believe this will."

The bill (LB1040) would create an optional, commemorative birth certificate for parents whose pregnancies fail before the 20th week of gestation. It provides a mandate to a health care practitioner to advise a patient of the option to obtain a nonviable birth certificate after a miscarriage is diagnosed. 

In Florida, the National Organization for Women fought a similar bill, arguing it was an effort to advance the definition of when life begins.

Some Nebraska senators questioned why a death certificate wouldn't be more appropriate, and why a state law would be necessary to get a commemorative certificate. 

Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston said her bill was meant to help grieving families — for those mothers forced to say goodbye to a child they loved and longed for, before they got to say hello.

One in four women experience a miscarriage, she said, the majority within the first three months. 

"Every pregnancy loss is a tragedy that has a profound impact on women and entire families. Yet most go unrecognized," Albrecht said. 

The state offers birth certificates for pregnancies that end at or after 20 weeks gestation, she said. 

This birth recognition is commemorative, not an official birth certificate, and has no legal effect, she said. And it cannot be used to calculate live birth statistics. 

A woman must request the certificate, it would not be required or automatic. There is no cost to the state, Albrecht said. 

The bill was supported by the Nebraska Hospital Association, and several doctors submitted letters of support. 

"I would especially like to thank all of the courageous mothers ... for bravely coming to testify at the committee hearing to tell their stories and describe how these certificates would mean the world to them and their families," Albrecht said. 

Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Merv Riepe of Ralston said allowing families to honor the babies they will never hold is the right, sensitive, kind thing to do. 

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz took the opportunity on the opening of the bill Wednesday night to say there are things the Legislature can do to prevent nonviable births. Mothers who receive late or no prenatal care are more likely to have babies with health problems.

Mothers who don't get prenatal care are three times more likely to give birth to low-weight babies, and their babies are far more likely to die, she said.

That's heartbreaking, she said. And that is why she has been working to protect access to prenatal care through the state budget, "and why we must find a fix to the Title X language in our budget," she said.  

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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