In the spring of 2017, I was pregnant with my third child. He was my first boy.
We were very excited that he was born and like all parents, we prepared for him. We bought a new cot, new car seat, diapers, and clothes. Then, in the 37th week of pregnancy, just three weeks after he was due, we went to the hospital because I was unwell.
The nurses couldn’t find his heartbeat. Hours later, a doctor finally confirmed that he had died inside me.
Shortly thereafter, I gave birth to Caleb Marcus, just as I had his older living sisters. While we were holding him, we decided to cremate him and make preliminary arrangements for his funeral. Eventually we bought him a cremation alcove in a beautiful cemetery.
The next year when I filled out our federal tax return, I was able to claim my two older daughters as my relatives, which gave me a tax break. The federal tax law provides for this benefit due to the high cost of parenthood. Although I incurred similar costs on Caleb, I was unable to claim any federal tax break on him.
Since he died shortly before his birth, the federal tax law does not recognize his existence or our expenses.
If Caleb had died minutes after he was born, I could have claimed him dependent on my taxes. This also applies if he was born prematurely, as was difficult at 23 weeks. But Caleb died in my womb shortly before he was due to give birth, which means that federal tax law doesn’t consider him a dependent.
It doesn’t make sense because it cost him exactly the same cost that I would have had if he had been born alive and died shortly afterwards.
To remedy this illogical treatment, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson recently signed the Paisley Act. Introduced by Rep. Les Eaves, R-Searcy and named after his stillborn granddaughter, this law gives parents a tax credit of $ 500 if their child is stillborn. Stillbirth is a loss of pregnancy after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but before birth.
My son Caleb was one of the approximately 24,000 stillborn children born in the United States each year. The overall risk of stillbirth is 1 in 160 pregnancies, although not all women are at the same risk. Studies show that black and poor women are at double the risk of stillbirth compared to white women and women of higher socioeconomic status.
According to the Star Legacy Foundation, a stillbirth advocacy group, there were 244 stillbirths in Arkansas in 2017. Our state stillbirth rate (6.5) is above the national average (5.6). Only 12 states and the District of Columbia have higher stillbirth rates than Arkansas.
There is no doubt that improvement is possible. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, Scotland, and England, have already had lower stillbirth rates than the United States and have recently reduced their stillbirth rates by 20 percent and more. A 2018 study also concluded that at least a quarter of current stillbirths in the US are likely to be preventable.
In the meantime, Paisley Act will not only help parents with the unexpected financial costs of stillbirth, but will also confirm parenthood.
A broader idea of reproductive justice recognizes a woman’s right to have a child and to raise that child. Studies show that most parents still view their stillborn child as their child, just as I do view my son. However, numerous laws, including the Federal Tax Act, tell these parents that their stillborn child is not a child.
Paisley’s Law, on the other hand, confirms to parents that their child existed even if he never breathed outside of the womb.
While I hope no other mother will ever have to give birth to her stillborn child, I am grateful that Paisley’s Law will help her with the many unexpected costs of stillbirth and recognize her child.
Jill Wieber Lens is a leading expert on legal recognition and treatment of stillbirths. She is a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law. The views expressed in this piece are hers and are not representative of the University of Arkansas.