New Zealand brings in bereavement leave for miscarriages and stillbirths

Legislation allowing three days’ leave applies to parents, their partners, and parents planning to have a child through adoption or surrogacy

New Zealand’s parliament has voted unanimously to give mothers and their partners three days of bereavement leave after a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Labour MP Ginny Andersen, who presented the bill, said it would allow parents to come to terms with their loss without being forced to use up their sick leave entitlements. “The grief that comes with miscarriage is not a sickness; it is a loss,” she said. “That loss takes time – time to recover physically and time to recover mentally; time to recover with a partner”.

The legislation applies to parents, their partners, and parents planning to have a child through adoption or surrogacy.

Anderson paid tribute to Dunedin writer Kathryn Van Beek, who had approached her local MP after experiencing a miscarriage and pushed for a law change: “A miscarriage is a strange, secret birth that is also a death,” Beek wrote at the time.

Green MP Jan Logie said the bill would go some way toward breaking down the taboo and silence that many women still endure after losing a pregnancy.

“That silence that has caused so much harm has, in part, started to be broken by this debate and by parliament’s attention,” Logie said.

She said that one in four New Zealand women have had a miscarriage, and around 20,000 women lose a pregnancy through miscarriage or stillbirth every year.

“It is an incredibly normal experience, but normal doesn’t mean easy; it doesn’t mean without pain. But we have for a long time, through silence and stigma, forced women – primarily women – into actually just pretending as if it hasn’t happened.”

The bill does not apply to women who end a pregnancy through abortion. National MP Erica Stanford said that while she supported the bill, “the grief and anguish and trauma experienced during an abortion and the fact that it’s not included in this bill make me uncomfortable – personally uncomfortable”.

New Zealand is not the first country in the world to progress legislation for miscarriage leave. Indian law stipulates women are entitled to six weeks’ leave if they miscarry a baby, but because the vast majority of employees engage in informal work few are able to access it.

Some other countries have provisions for paid leave if a woman gives birth to a stillborn baby.

In the Canadian province of Ontario if a woman loses a baby 17 weeks or less before her due date she is entitled to 17 weeks of unpaid pregnancy leave.

In the UK a miscarriage before the end of the 24th week of pregnancy does not qualify for bereavement leave, but a stillborn child born after this date means the mother is entitled to maternity leave and associated pay.

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