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Bereavement bill passes in Alberta

By 
  • June 1, 2022

Employees in Alberta will now be entitled to bereavement leave following any pregnancy that doesn’t end in a live birth, regardless of the reason or timing.

Bill 17, which passed May 24, will make it mandatory for employers to allow workers time off after miscarriage or still birth. Following criticism by NDP opposition, the legislation introduced by Labour and Immigration Minister Kaycee Madu, was updated to specifically include abortion. It also covers bereavement leave for the partner of the employee.

An estimated 15-20 per cent of pregnancies in Canada end in miscarriage. A study found that miscarriage usually induces an intense period of emotional distress with nearly 20 per cent of women suffering from depression and/or anxiety. Abortion has also been found to lead to emotional distress, negative feelings and mental health issues.

A practising Catholic, Madu of the United Conservative Party says getting the bill to the finish line was a top priority. He was pleased to make the suggested amendment which he saw as an opportunity to address the “philosophical confusion” that exists on the progressive side of politics. With the U.S. Supreme Court set to overturn abortion laws, Madu says the bereavement legislation easily got caught in the pro-choice politics of the moment. The criticism gave an opportunity to acknowledge lives lost though abortion.

“Originally the bill intended to cover still birth and miscarriage which in itself recognizes the loss of an unborn child which is important to me and to all of us,” said Madu. “The NDP wanted to push for abortion to be included in the bill confusing abortion rights with the loss of pregnancy due to abortion — something someone like myself as a Catholic and pro-life person would support.

“They wanted to use what was going on in the U.S. to push their own ideological fight here. That was an opportunity to then amend the bill to now say yes, when you have lost a baby from abortion, that is a loss of life and a loss of pregnancy that requires bereavement.”

Minimizing or denying the impact of events like the loss of a child ends up coming out in other unhealthy ways, says Nicole Scheidl, executive director of Canadian Physicians for Life.

Scheidl says in the culture wars around abortion, it is often forgotten that that there are people involved. The passing of Bill 17, she believes, is a great recognition on the part of the province of the humanity of employees in the workplace.

“It is always challenging for parents to balance work responsibilities and family responsibilities,” said Scheidl. “I think it’s important for employers to recognize that their employees have these additional responsibilities that makes them more mature and more valuable members of their workforce. I think this is a great step forward to recognize there is a whole person that is dealing with family, and other responsibilities that impact them. It’s a whole human being not just, one, four or eight hours of labour.”

An employee who works well is one who brings the “whole person to work,” she said.

“There are responsibilities and the other things that a parent brings to work because they have their family on their heart all the time. When their family suffers a loss, because of the loss of a child who they were hoping would be a part of their family, to recognize that by giving them time to grieve recognizes them in their personhood. I think that’s very important to do.”

Madu hopes this law will be a catalyst in encouraging a more supportive work environment for parents and also acknowledging the impact a pregnancy that does not end in live birth has on fathers. A study found most men describe feeling significant grief following miscarriage and felt that there was little acknowledgment of their loss, both from health-care providers and within their social networks. 

“This (law) will allow fathers to take bereavement leave when their (partner) suffers a miscarriage, stillbirth or loss of pregnancy as a result of any other factor, to give them time to grieve for the loss of their child,” said Madu.

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