Finally, New Zealand may be about to treat the end of a pregnancy for what it is, a health issue. Labour MP Ginny Andersen’s proposed bill to provide bereavement leave in the event of a miscarriage must do the same.
The problem with this bill is that it would provide bereavement leave to “mothers” and their partners following the “unplanned end” of a pregnancy, but excludes people who decide to end their pregnancies. The good news is, it’s easily fixed. Provide sick leave to all people and a support person of their choice when their pregnancies end, regardless of how they end.
Why? Because all women matter, no matter their pregnancy experiences. Yet in its current form, by including fetuses in the definition of a child under the Holidays Act, this bill perpetuates harmful stigma against women who terminate their pregnancies by (1) excluding abortion from the outcomes triggering leave and (2) favouring the experience of grief over health.
Anti-choicers already use this rhetoric of fetal personhood to justify harassing, shaming, and discriminating against women, simply for exercising their rights to reproductive health.
Enough with the stigma. It’s time to normalise all pregnancies and their outcomes. The fact is, pregnancies occur when we don’t want them, and fail when we do. Some of us may even terminate a wanted pregnancy — for medical, financial or other reasons.
Most women who have abortions are already mothers. While one in four women will miscarry, one in three will terminate, and 95 per cent do so without regrets. Abortion, like any other pregnancy outcome, is a part of life. So, despite scare tactics to the contrary, we are all worthy of making our own reproductive decisions, whether we decide to continue a pregnancy or not.
Treating all pregnancy outcomes as a health issue, and thus equally deserving of leave, is a step in the right direction. Doing so acknowledges the intimate link between every woman’s body and her overall wellbeing.
Including all pregnancy outcomes gives every woman the freedom to address the end of her pregnancy in a way that makes sense for her. The point is, all women experience pregnancy differently. Every experience is valid. The law must reflect that.
Proponents of this bill will say it’s too risky to include people who terminate, since abortion is still a controversial topic (indeed, Andersen thought it was). They’ll say it’s more important to acknowledge the grief a woman and her partner feel after miscarriage, rather than support someone who has chosen to end her pregnancy.
This argument is flawed. Ranking women’s worth based on their pregnancy outcomes, and allowing them extra support based on their relationship status, impinges on all our rights to reproductive freedom. Doing so will only allow lawmakers, employers and the public at large to continue to judge us and stigmatise us across all aspects of our reproductive lives. Life circumstances vary dramatically. So do pregnancy outcomes. The bill should include all of them.
The solution is simple: amend the bill to extend sick leave entitlements to all women whose pregnancies end, and extend the leave to people other than partners or spouses. Indeed, not all women will have an intimate or supportive partner. They may need support from a friend or family member.
All women should be able to choose who they want to support them after their pregnancies end. Also, not all pregnant people identify as women. The law should reflect that too.
It’s been 125 years since becoming the first nation to get the women’s vote. More than 40 years of treating abortion as a crime. The tide is finally turning in recognising our rights to reproductive health. This bill must catch up.
We must reject unhelpful stereotypes and be ourselves at all risks. Instead of letting this bill define us and divide us, let’s amend it to unite us. We can be world firsts again.
Frances Everard is a New Zealand human rights lawyer currently working in New York.
Source: NZ Herald