New Zealand’s parliament voted unanimously on Wednesday to allow mothers and their partners three days of paid bereavement leave after a miscarriage or stillbirth.
While employers in the country were already required to provide paid leave in the event of stillbirth, there was some confusion surrounding the qualifications. The groundbreaking new bill removes any ambiguity, extending benefits to anyone who loses a pregnancy at any point. Previously, grieving couples had to use sick leave when dealing with the end of a pregnancy.
“This is a bill about workers’ rights and fairness,” tweeted Labor member of Parliament Ginny Andersen, who presented the bill. “I hope it gives people time to grieve and promotes greater openness about miscarriage. We should not be fearful of our bodies.”
Advocates for the legislation hope that it not only provides grieving couples with financial stability, but also paves the way for more open discussion surrounding miscarriages and stillbirths, which many find painful and uncomfortable to discuss or seek help for.
“The grief that comes with miscarriage is not a sickness — it is a loss,” Andersen said during a reading of the bill Wednesday, criticizing employers that force employees to use sick days following miscarriages. “That loss takes time. Time to recover physically and time to recover mentally. Time to recover with a partner, because often, the mother is not alone in her grief.” The leave also extends to couples who are grieving miscarriages or stillbirths through surrogacy or adoption. The bill does not apply to abortions.
Andersen said New Zealand is the second country in the world that she is aware of that has passed such legislation. She urged other countries to also “recognize the pain and the grief that comes from miscarriage and stillbirth” and pass similar laws.
The United States does not have any laws requiring employers to grant leave to anyone who experiences a miscarriage. In Britain, those who suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks can receive paid time off, while in Australia, they are entitled to unpaid leave after 12 weeks. Indian law grants six weeks of leave for miscarriages.
In her statement, Andersen said that one in four women in New Zealand suffer a miscarriage, but “it is still considered a taboo in our society today.”
“A miscarriage is a strange, secret birth that is also a death,” she said, quoting writer Kathryn Van Beek, who she credited with inspiring the bill. “There is still stigma in New Zealand today around asking for help.”
Pregnancy loss such as miscarriages, defined in the U.S. as the loss of a baby before the 20th week of pregnancy, and stillbirths, which are characterized by the 20-week mark and beyond, are much more common than many people assume — however, they are rarely spoken about publicly.
According to the CDC, “about 1 pregnancy in 100 at 20 weeks of pregnancy and later is affected by stillbirth, and each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates about 10% of pregnancies end in miscarriages.
Eighty percent of miscarriages occur in the first trimester, before many women have even told anyone that they are pregnant. In recent years Beyonce, Michelle Obama, Carrie Underwood, Meghan McCain, Meghan Markle and Chrissy Teigen, among many others, have spoken publicly about their miscarriages, in hopes of breaking the culture of silence.
New Zealand has been a pioneer of women’s rights issues, most recently passing legislation to provide period products for free in all schools. Last year, the government, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, passed a historic law decriminalizing abortion.