In a unanimous vote Wednesday, New Zealand’s parliament approved a bill that will allow mothers and their partners three days of paid bereavement leave if they experience a miscarriage or stillbirth.
The bill extends to women who lose a child at any point during the pregnancy, and it includes their partners as well as parents who are hoping to adopt or have a child through surrogacy.
Ginny Andersen, the bill’s primary sponsor, said during the final reading of the bill that the legislation allows women and their partners to avoid using sick leave “at a time when they are dealing with extreme loss.”
“The grief that comes with miscarriage is not a sickness; it is a loss, and that loss takes time – time to recover physically and time to recover mentally,” Andersen said.
In celebrating the bill’s passage, Andersen, a member of the Labour Party, tweeted that she was “proud to have made a change for good.”
Barbara Kuriger, a member of the National Party, said about 20,000 women in New Zealand each year have a miscarriage or stillbirth. “This is something that many women would be going through every day,” she said.
While some employers in New Zealand already have their own policies to provide bereavement leave under these circumstances, not all do, Kuriger said.
The bill applies to known and unknown pregnancies, and women won’t have to provide proof of their pregnancy to employers. The bill, however, does not apply to abortions, Kuriger said.
According to the bill, a miscarriage is defined as the end of a pregnancy within the first 20 weeks, whereas a stillbirth occurs after.
The New York Times reported that a prior law in New Zealand required employers to offer paid bereavement leave for stillbirths but not miscarriages.
Andersen told the Times that New Zealand “may well be the first country” to offer such an expansive paid bereavement leave in these cases.
According to the Guardian, India has a law requiring six weeks of paid bereavement leave for women who have a miscarriage, but the law is not applicable to most workers, who often engage in informal work.
The U.K. allows women to take maternity leave only if a stillbirth occurs after 24 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guardian. Australia offers unpaid leave for miscarriages after 12 weeks, the Times reported.
In the United States, employers are not required to offer leave for miscarriages or stillbirths, forcing many women to use their sick leave to take time away from work, if they are able to take any at all.
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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 100 pregnancies at 20 weeks or later in the U.S. result in a stillbirth. The Mayo Clinic says about 10% to 20% of pregnancies result in miscarriages, though the figure is likely higher due to some occurring so early in the pregnancy that the woman is not aware.
Andersen said forcing a woman to use her sick time for a miscarriage or stillbirth is “callous” and “wrong.”
“I hope that this bill will go some way in allowing women to feel more comfortable about talking about miscarriage and that they feel comfortable reaching out for support and for help in what is a huge physical and emotional loss, without the pressure of financial insecurity or insufficient leave to take that needed time to grieve,” Andersen said.
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