New Zealand’s parliament has unanimously passed legislation that would entitle mothers and their partners to bereavement leave following a pregnancy loss or stillbirth.
The Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage Bill will give a couple three paid days off work to grieve and recover from a pregnancy loss.
“The Bill will give women and their partners time to come to terms with their loss without having to tap into sick leave. Because their grief is not a sickness, it is a loss,” said the bill’s sponsor, Ginny Andersen, a member of the Labour Party led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Andersen told HuffPost that she’d hoped also to reduce stigma around the subject, noting that women who experience miscarriage often haven’t been able to share the news of their pregnancy, let alone the subsequent struggle to cope with the loss.
“People still are afraid to talk about it,” she said. “Particularly in that first trimester of pregnancy... There might be a whole range of reasons, but that’s kind of like an unspoken rule, you don’t talk about your pregnancy until three months.”
She said the bill’s passage showed that New Zealand was once again leading the way for progressive and compassionate legislation, becoming the second country in the world to provide leave for pregnancy loss and stillbirth.
The law would also apply to parents planning to have a child through adoption or surrogacy.
Andersen, who introduced the bill in 2019, said she hopes the legislation will promote openness around the subject of pregnancy loss, which is estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 5 pregnancies.
The bereavement policy does not extend to women who have had abortions.
When the bill was first considered, abortion was still in New Zealand’s Crimes Act.
Andersen said she fully supports establishing similar rights for women who have had an abortion but didn’t want the miscarriage issue to be sidelined by an abortion debate.
New Zealand is not the first country to pass this type of policy, although it appears it will have the most wide-ranging effect.
In India, women are entitled to six weeks’ leave after a pregnancy loss. However, with the majority of employees participating in informal work, a very small percentage of the population is able to access it.
Other countries have policies on paid leave for stillbirths but not for miscarriages.
Women in the UK who have a stillbirth after the 24th week of pregnancy are entitled to parental leave and pay. But a miscarriage before this date does not qualify.
In the US, there is considerable variation by state and by company. In some cases, women who suffer a pregnancy loss are entitled to time off but must use sick days or take unpaid leave. Some organisations are taking it a step further: Reddit, for example, gives 8½ paid weeks to employees who have pregnancy losses.
This would apply for partners of women who’ve had a miscarriage, as well as employees whose surrogate birth or adoption fell through, and for someone who has had an abortion.