In a measure believed to be the first of its kind, New Zealand is granting paid leave to couples who lose a pregnancy at any point.
The country’s Parliament approved the legislation unanimously, giving couples who suffer loss either through miscarriage or a stillbirth three days of paid leave.
Some employers in New Zealand and in other countries already have to provide paid leave in the event of a stillbirth, if a fetus is lost at 20 weeks or more. But the new legislation builds on this, allowing anyone who loses a pregnancy at any point some time to grieve and recover.
Grief is not a sickness, it is a loss. And loss takes time.
The legislation is expected to become law in the coming weeks. Ginny Andersen, the Labour member of Parliament who proposed the bill explained why she felt the legislation was necessary: “I felt that it would give women the confidence to be able to request that leave if it was required, as opposed to just being stoic and getting on with life, when they knew that they needed time, physically or psychologically, to get over the grief.”
She expanded, “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. And loss takes time.”
The new law does not apply to abortions, but it does include provisions for would-be parents who were planning to have a child through adoption or surrogacy.
The legislation has been in the works for several years, rising out of the recognition of the unique pressures women face over the course of their careers; women have had to balance work responsibilities with issues such as pregnancies, often leading to stunted advancement in their career trajectories.
How do other countries stack up?
- The United States does not require employers to provide leave for anyone who suffers a miscarriage (despite the fact that up to 1 in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the Mayo Clinic).
- In Britain, those who experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks are eligible for paid leave.
- In Australia, people who miscarry can apply for unpaid leave if they lose a fetus after 12 weeks.
- India allows for six weeks of leave following a miscarriage.
- In Canada, parental leave does not apply after miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth, “since the employee must have actual care and custody of a newborn child.” Regarding other benefits, the laws are less clear: if the pregnancy ends before week 20, you could receive sickness benefits while after this point, you could receive maternity benefits.
In its move, New Zealand is setting a bold precedent for other countries to follow. The pioneer has been a leader in women’s rights issues, and it’s little surprise when its centre-left Labour government is led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – a longtime champion of issues around women’s’ rights.