AUCKLAND, New Zealand – The New Zealand Parliament unanimously passed legislation on Wednesday that would give couples who suffered miscarriage or stillbirth three days of paid leave, putting the country at the forefront of those offering these benefits.
Employers in New Zealand, as in some other countries, had previously been required to grant paid leave in the event of stillbirth, when a fetus is lost after 20 weeks or more. The new legislation will extend this license to those who lose their pregnancy at any time, eliminating any ambiguity. The measure is expected to become law in the coming weeks.
“I thought it would give women the confidence to be able to apply for this license, if necessary, instead of just being stoic and moving on, when they knew they needed time, physically or psychologically, to overcome grief,” said Ginny Andersen, the labor parliamentarian who drafted the bill.
Ms. Andersen added that she was unable to find comparable legislation anywhere in the world. “We may very well be the first country,” she said, adding, “But all the countries New Zealand is usually compared to legislate for the 20-week mark.”
The new law does not apply to abortions, Andersen added. New Zealand decriminalized abortion last year, ending the country’s status as one of the few wealthy nations to limit the reasons for terminating pregnancy in the first half.
The new law, which has been in development for several years, comes amid a broader global assessment of women at work. Women have long struggled to balance the needs of their employers with issues such as pregnancy, sometimes causing them to miss out on advancement and other opportunities.
In Australia, people who have an abortion are entitled to unpaid leave if they lose a fetus after 12 weeks, while in Great Britain, prospective parents who experience stillbirth after 24 weeks are entitled to paid leave. The United States does not require employers to grant leave of absence to anyone who suffers a miscarriage.
Up to 20 percent of all known pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage, according to the Mayo Clinic. In New Zealand, whose population is five million, the Ministry of Health estimates that one to two pregnancies out of ten will end in spontaneous abortion.
The charity Sands New Zealand, which supports parents who have lost their pregnancies, says that 5,900 to 11,800 abortions or stillbirths occur each year. More than 95 percent of 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 worrying and painful topic, difficult to speak publicly or to seek support for, health advocates say.
“If you call the hospital saying, ‘I think I’m aborting my baby,’ many women will say, ‘I felt like I was the first person in the world to have an abortion,'” said Vicki Culling, a baby loss educator who pressed for better support for bereaved parents in New Zealand.
“The foundations of your world just fall apart, because you expect to have this beautiful baby, and when that baby dies, whether in the womb or shortly after birth, everything falls apart.”
Ms. Culling applauded New Zealand legislation as a first step, but said there was more to be done.
“You have three days of paid leave, maybe you bury your baby or have a ceremony, and then you go back to work and move on – and then what? That is my concern, ”she said.
“I am celebrating, but I want to see ourselves keeping that compassion in action and looking further into the needs of these parents.”