This Commons Library briefing paper deals with the registration of stillbirths across the UK. When a baby is stillborn (born dead) after 24 weeks pregnancy, the birth must be registered. However, there is no provision to allow the registration of stillbirths before the 24th week of pregnancy. There have been calls in England and Wales for the law to be changed.Jump to full report >>
This briefing paper deals with the position in England and Wales unles otherwise stated.
The birth of a baby who is born alive must be registered, whatever the length of the completed pregnancy. The death of a baby born alive must be registered in the same way as any other death.
When a baby is stillborn (born dead) after 24 weeks pregnancy, the stillbirth must be registered in the stillbirth register. The process for registering a stillbirth combines features of both birth and death registration.
There is no provision to allow the registration of stillbirths before the 24th week of pregnancy. The charity Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity) provides forms of certificate that health care staff may use or adapt for a baby stillborn before 24 weeks pregnancy.
On a number of occasions, the Government has indicated that it has no plans to change the definition of stillbirth, which is based on clinical evidence and the age of viability.
In January 2014, Tim Loughton (Conservative) introduced a Private Members’ Bill, intended to enable registration of a baby stillborn before the threshold of 24 weeks. The definition of stillbirth was to be based on the experience of giving birth. This Bill did not progress any further.
Tim Loughton has also raised the issue of registration of stillbirth before 24 weeks of pregnancy in other Parliamentary debates, speaking of the arbitrary nature of the 24 week threshold. He highlighted one case where twins had been stillborn either side of the threshold and were treated differently for registration purposes.
There have been a number of petitions calling for the law to be changed, to allow the registration of a stillbirth before the 24th week of pregnancy.
In July 2017, having come fifth in the Private Members’ Bill ballot which took place in June 2017, Tim Loughton introduced the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill 2017-19 (the Bill). Explanatory Notes have been prepared by the Home Office with the consent of Tim Loughton.
The Bill was published on 31 January 2018 as Bill 11 of 2017-19, had its Second Reading on 2 February 2018, and Public Bill Committee stage (in one sitting) on 18 July 2018. The Bill as amended in Public Bill Committee has been published as Bill 254 of 2017-19.
Report stage in the Commons is scheduled for 26 October 2018.
The Bill, as amended in Public Bill Committee, has Government and Opposition support.
Among other things, the Bill would require the Secretary of State to “make arrangements for the preparation of a report on whether, and if so how, the law ought to be changed to require or permit the registration of pregnancy losses which cannot be registered as still-births under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953”. The Secretary of State would be required to publish the report.
Another Library briefing paper provides further information about the Bill, which also deals with other matters: Commons Library analysis: Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill (CBP 08127).
Commons Briefing papers SN05595
Author: Catherine Fairbairn