Registration of pregnancy loss before 24 weeks’ gestation
Date: May 2018
Tim Loughton MP has presented a Private Member’s Bill, the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill 2017-19, to the Westminster Parliament. This Bill includes a request to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to consider the law on registering pregnancy losses that happen before 24 weeks’ gestation.
Alongside this, the Secretary of State has commissioned a Pregnancy Loss Review of care and support when baby loss occurs before 24 weeks’ gestation.
Both the Bill and the Review focus on whether the law ought to be changed either to allow the registration of pre-24 week pregnancy losses (so that this is a personal choice) or to require it (so it is a legal requirement).
At present, if a baby is stillborn (born dead) from 24 weeks of pregnancy, the stillbirth must be registered. Currently, it is not possible to register a pregnancy loss before 24 weeks’ gestation.
In developing this position, we have consulted with our members, supporters and social media followers via an online survey, receiving over 2,500 responses. We have also undertaken external discussions with partners in the charity and health sectors, as well as internal discussions within the Miscarriage Association.
Registration of a pregnancy loss (miscarriage, ectopic or molar pregnancy) before 24 weeks’ gestation is clearly an important and emotive issue. Many of those affected would greatly value having some formal recognition of their loss or their child, and say this could be a vital part of the grieving process. The absence of the opportunity or right to register a loss pre-24 week gestation weighs heavy on many people who have experienced losses earlier in pregnancy.
Conversely, others feel that registration might add to their distress, while some do not feel the need for formal recognition or do not ascribe the same meaning to their pregnancy loss.
In developing our position, we acknowledge this wide range of opinions and experiences represented by our stakeholders, while drawing out proposals that we feel will promote greater choice.
- changing the law to give the option of registering losses that occur before 24 weeks’ gestation.
We support this change in the law under the following conditions:
- Pre-24 week registration should not be mandatory; individuals should be free to choose to register their loss, or not.
- Deadlines for registration after loss should match the time period specified for losses that occur after 24 weeks, i.e. losses can be registered no later than 42 days from the loss.
- Any changes in the law must have no explicit or implicit implications for abortion rights or limits as set out by current legislation. Abortion limits and rights are a separate issue and should be treated as such.
- There should be a full national consultation with individuals affected by pregnancy loss, health professionals and charities on any changes proposed, with input taken into account before any changes are made to legislation or current practice. This may form part of the concurrent Pregnancy Loss Review. This consultation would need to include a discussion of whether a new ‘floor’ for registration limits would be set; i.e. whether it would be practical or justifiable to permit registration of any and all losses from any gestation period, or whether to place a new limit before 24 weeks.
- There should be clear guidance for women and couples and for health professionals regarding any verification that might be required for registration.
- Individuals should be informed of their rights around registration and supported to make their own choices.
We do not support:
- mandatory registration of losses before 24 weeks’ gestation.
- registration of losses before 24 weeks’ gestation based on any specific characteristics of the loss.
- More information on the Bill and parliamentary debate so far can be found here: https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/civilpartnershipsmarriagesanddeathsregistrationetc.html
- A summary of current law relating to registration of stillbirths can be found here: https://www.rcm.org.uk/news-views-and-analysis/analysis/registration-of-stillbirths-and-certification-for-pregnancy-loss
- Current practice for parents registering a stillbirth can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/register-stillbirth