Rachael Wong: Recognising the end of pregnancy in cases of abortion and miscarriage

NZ Herald 30 April 2019
Family First Comment: “It is because planned or unplanned, abortion or miscarriage, women in both situations have suffered the loss of a child and need time to grieve that loss.”
Rachael Wong is speaking at our Forum on the Family in July.

Frances Everard argued that providing bereavement leave after miscarriage should extend to abortion (NZ Herald, April 16). On this point, I am in whole-hearted agreement.

What I have serious concerns about is her reasoning – and the hijacking of Labour MP Ginny Anderson’s important bill to push a liberalised abortion agenda.

Women who experience a miscarriage or abortion should both be entitled to bereavement leave. But this is not because in Everard’s words, “the end of a pregnancy is a health issue”, it is, although any woman who experiences pregnancy loss will tell you that it is also more than a mere health matter.

It is not because as Everard maintains, “all women matter”. They do. It is because planned or unplanned, abortion or miscarriage, women in both situations have suffered the loss of a child and need time to grieve that loss.

It is also important to note that while an abortion may be “planned” and therefore currently excluded from the bill, many women who seek abortion do so because societal pressures and a lack of support and proper information cause them to feel like this grief was forced upon them.

Everard wants women who undergo an abortion to receive bereavement leave – leave for the purpose of grieving the death of a family member – but she doesn’t want to acknowledge that this is precisely what’s happening in the case of an abortion. In fact, she does her best to detract from and minimise this reality by using “bereavement leave” interchangeably with “sick leave” as well as rhetoric like, “This bill [favours] the experience of grief over health”, and, “It’s time to normalise all pregnancies and their outcomes”.

This is a bill about bereavement. It is a bill about grief. Of course, health, and particularly mental health, is a component of that. However, the fundamental reason for extending bereavement leave to miscarriage, is because as a society we are coming to recognise that a woman’s grief should not be minimised or ignored simply because she loses her child before it is born.

Everard also takes issue with the fact that the bill extends only to a woman’s partner or spouse, because, “not all women will have an intimate or supportive partner” and so “may need support from a friend or family member”. She protests that “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”.

However, extending leave to partners in this case is surely about recognising that they are bereaved persons too. All women who have experienced a miscarriage or abortion need and deserve support, no matter their relationship status. But extending leave to partners in this bill is about recognising that both parents of the child will be grieving the loss of that child.

That being said, bereavement leave for both miscarriage and abortion would give women the opportunity to seek any support and counselling they may need. Everard maintains that 95 per cent of women who undergo an abortion “do so without regrets”. However, the study that this statistic is based on is deeply flawed (due to self-selection bias, among other things) and does not reflect the reality of the many women who suffer grief and other psychological issues after an abortion.

By emphasising women’s “reproductive health”, “reproductive decisions” and “reproductive freedom”, and the fact that abortion is still under the criminal law, Everard reveals her primary agenda, which clearly seems to be about normalising and liberalising abortion, on demand, as an absolute right.

Abortion law reform in New Zealand is a separate matter, and this important bill should not be exploited and made to serve that agenda. The loss and grief experienced by parents as a result of miscarriage deserves recognition, as does the loss and grief resulting from abortion. Both should be included in this bill, for this reason.

* Rachael Wong is a New Zealand barrister and the managing director of Women’s Forum Australia, a Sydney-based think tank that strives to bring about pro-woman cultural change through research, education and public policy advocacy.

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