New Zealand's Parliament on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation that would give couples who suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth three days' paid leave, putting the country in the vanguard of those providing such benefits.
Ginny Andersen, the Labour member of Parliament who drafted the bill, said she had not been able to find comparable legislation anywhere in the world. "We may well be the first country," she said, adding, "But all the countries that New Zealand is usually compared to legislate for the 20-week mark."
Employers in New Zealand, as in some other countries, had already been required to provide paid leave in the event of a stillbirth, when a fetus is lost after a gestation of 20 weeks or more. The new legislation will expand that leave to anyone who loses a pregnancy at any point, removing any ambiguity. The measure is expected to become law in the coming weeks.
"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," Andersen said.
The new law does not apply to those who terminate pregnancies, Andersen added. New Zealand decriminalized abortion last year, ending the country’s status as one of the few wealthy nations to limit the grounds for ending a pregnancy in the first half.
In Australia, people who miscarry are entitled to unpaid leave if they lose a fetus after 12 weeks, while in Britain, would-be parents who experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks are eligible for paid leave. The United States does not require employers to provide leave for anyone who suffers a miscarriage.
Up to 20% of all known pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage, according to the Mayo Clinic. In New Zealand, whose population is 5 million, the Ministry of Health estimates that one to two pregnancies in 10 will end in miscarriage.
The charity Sands New Zealand, which supports parents who have lost a pregnancy, says 5,900 to 11,800 miscarriages or stillbirths occur each year. More than 95% of the miscarriages occur in the first 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy, according to data from the New Zealand College of Midwives.
A miscarriage or stillbirth remains a fraught and painful topic, one that is difficult to talk about publicly or seek support for, health advocates say.
"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,'" said 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."
Culling applauded the New Zealand legislation as a first step but said there was more to be done.
“You get three days' paid leave, maybe you bury your baby or you have a service, and then you go back to work, and you carry on — and then what? That's my concern," she said.
"I'm celebrating it, but I want to see us keeping this compassion going and looking further into the needs of these parents."
By Natasha Frost
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