Pittsburgh, Portland, Ore., pass bereavement leave for pregnancy loss

Portland, Oregon, is the latest city to provide bereavement leave for people experiencing pregnancy loss, including abortions.

The city’s amended bereavement leave policy allows city employees to take up to three days of paid leave if they’ve had a miscarriage, stillbirth or any other type of pregnancy loss. The policy covers time off for people to recover from an abortion “irrespective of whether deemed medically necessary,” according to the text.

The city council approved the changes unanimously earlier in October.

Bereavement leave that covers miscarriages and stillbirths is rare, said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst with reproductive health research organization Guttmacher Institute, to OPB. Even more rare is paid leave to recover from an abortion, she told OPB: “This is just incredibly uncommon.”

But while paid leave to recover from pregnancy loss is rare, the event itself is “extremely common,” per the Kaiser Family Foundation, which estimates miscarriages occur in up to an estimated 30% of all pregnancies. It can take several weeks for the body to recover physically from pregnancy loss, and longer to recover mentally.

The move makes Portland among the first local governments in the U.S. and even around the world to recognize the need for paid leave following pregnancy loss, says Laura Narefsky, an attorney on the education and workplace justice team at the National Women’s Law Center. “It’s incredibly exciting to see cities see this as an important way to support their workers,” she tells CNBC Make It.

Portland City Council began the process of updating its bereavement leave policy last summer, according to OPB. Michelle Rodriguez, a senior policy advisor in Commissioner Mingus Mapps’ office, wanted the new policy to cover time off for pregnancy loss, mirroring legislation passed in New Zealand to give mothers and their partners three days paid bereavement leave following a miscarriage or stillbirth. Rodriguez advocated for pushing the city’s policy to include bereavement leave following an abortion.

In one instance, Rodriguez told OPB, a staffer shared her experience of being a new employee who had yet to accrue any paid time off to use following her pregnancy loss.

“She essentially took days without pay to deal with both her physical reaction to what ended up being a medical termination with her doctor’s help and the emotional and psychological impact of what happened,” Rodriguez said. “I’m like, ‘OK, we need to figure out how to actually call this out and be proudly saying that this city wants to support families as they’re going through this process.'”

Portland city employees taking leave for pregnancy loss do not need to disclose the specific form of pregnancy loss to their employer.

“As employers think about loss in whatever form it appears, they’re signaling that it isn’t the kind of thing we should be second-guessing or requiring people to prove the types of loss we think are deserving or undeserving of time off,” Narefsky says.

In mid-September, Pittsburgh became the first U.S. city to pass legislation to provide employees and employees’ partners up to three days of leave due to causes like miscarriage, in vitro failure or termination. The leave applies equally to parents regardless of gender, as well as to same-sex couples.

In a statement, Councilman Bobby Wilson called on fellow large employers in the city, especially non-profits, foundations and additional non-city governmental authorities, to join the City of Pittsburgh in offering similar leave. “I am proud that the City of Pittsburgh is a national leader on this issue, and I look forward to expanding the scope of this leave in the months to come,” he said.

Other cities including Boston and Waterloo, Iowa, are pursuing similar legislation.

It’s possible new bereavement leave policies covering pregnancy loss could move from city governments to state and federal levels, Narefsky says. Already, the pandemic has led to greater support and legislation for paid emergency sick and family leave in general.

Notably, the U.S. remains an outlier in that it doesn’t provide a national standard of paid leave for new parents. Congressional Democrats are currently working on funding the nation’s first paid family and medical leave program in its latest spending bill. And while some states have begun to offer paid parental leave in recent years, the 19th reports that no state has approved a statewide policy to accommodate both miscarriage and stillbirth.

In July, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., introduced the Support Through Loss Act that would ensure employers provide at least three days of paid leave for workers “to process and cope following a pregnancy loss, an unsuccessful assisted reproductive technology procedure, a failed adoption arrangement, a failed surrogacy arrangement, or a medical diagnosis or event that impacts pregnancy or fertility.”

The legislation would also invest $45 million a year to the National Institutes of Health for federal research into miscarriage and pregnancy loss, and would require federal agencies to develop and provide public information on pregnancy loss, its prevalence and treatment options.

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