New Zealand introduces paid bereavement leave for miscarriages

New Zealand’s parliament has passed legislation giving mothers and their partners the right to paid leave following a lost pregnancy.

On Wednesday, New Zealand’s parliament unanimously approved legislation giving couples the right to three days of paid leave following a miscarriage or stillbirth in an effort to promote greater openness about lost pregnancies.

The bereavement allowance will mean that employees don’t have to tap into their allocated sick leave in these circumstances, putting the country – which is already a pioneer on issues regarding women’s rights – at the forefront of those providing such benefits.

Expected to become law during the next month, it’s an expansion of a measure that’s already in place which requires employers to provide paid leave in the event of a lost foetus at 20+ weeks.

The provisions will be for mothers, their partners, and parents planning to have a child through surrogacy. India is the only country across the globe with similar active legislation, the likes of which stipulates women are entitled to six weeks’ leave if they miscarry.

‘The passing of this bill shows that once again New Zealand is leading the way for progressive and compassionate legislation,’ says Labour Party MP Ginny Andersen, who initiated the bill.

‘It 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 – both physical and psychological – takes time.’

Andersen adds that she hopes it will give women the confidence to be able to request this leave if it’s necessary, as opposed to being ‘stoic’ and getting on with life.

It will not, however, apply to abortions despite the fact that New Zealand decriminalised the procedure last year, eradicating the country’s status as one of the few wealthy nations to limit the grounds for ending a pregnancy in the first four months.

The new law (which has been in development for several years) comes amid reports that one in four New Zealand women have had a miscarriage (5,900 to 11,800 lost pregnancies happen annually), a fraught topic which very few feel comfortable discussing publicly or seeking support for.

‘If you ring the hospital saying, “I think I’m miscarrying my baby,” so many women will say, “I felt like I was the first person in the world to be miscarrying,”’ says Dr Vicki Culling, an educator about baby loss who has pushed for better support for bereaved parents in New Zealand.

‘The foundations of your world just crumble, because you expect to have this beautiful baby, and when that baby dies, whether it’s in utero or soon after birth, everything is shattered.’

It’s also part of a broader global reckoning about women in the workplace, specifically the concern that women, struggling to balance the requirements of their employers with problems like these, often find themselves missing advancement and other opportunities as a result.

‘That silence that has caused so much harm has, in part, started to be broken by this debate and by parliament’s attention,’ finishes Culling. ‘Looking ahead, I want to see us keeping this compassion going and further exploring the needs of these parents.’

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