Alberta government alters bereavement leave legislation amid abortion debate

Alberta premier Jason Kenney shakes hands with Kaycee Madu, Minister of Municipal Affairs after being sworn into office in Edmonton on Tuesday April 30, 2019. Alberta has introduced legislation to give municipalities more flexibility to offer tax breaks to businesses to boost their economies. The changes were introduced today in the house by Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The Alberta government is amending its bereavement bill following criticism that it allowed leave for stillbirths and miscarriages but was silent on abortions.

Labour Minister Kaycee Madu introduced an amendment Tuesday to a bill that, if passed, would allow for leave in any pregnancy that doesn’t end in a live birth.

Madu said he has heard the concerns of the bill’s critics and other stakeholders.

“With this amendment, the legislation will provide the broadest approach possible to address any situation where pregnancy ends (in) other than a live birth, regardless of the reason or timing for the end of the pregnancy,” Madu told the house as he introduced the proposed change.

“Pregnancy loss is a very difficult and highly personal circumstance,” he added.

“Employees experiencing any kind of pregnancy loss should be able to access bereavement leave without having to share the details of their circumstance with their employers.”

When Madu introduced the bill on April 21, it proposed three days of unpaid leave for parents grieving after a stillbirth or miscarriage, but didn’t specifically promise leave when a pregnancy is purposely aborted.

He said at the time that while the bill didn’t include a specific mention of abortion, that didn’t stop employers from granting bereavement leaves in those situations.

However, the Opposition NDP said that without a specific mention, some women could be in the cruel position of having to litigate to gain that right while grieving their loss.

On Tuesday, Opposition critic Sarah Hoffman said Madu’s amendment does not go far enough and needs to spell out leave for abortion to ensure there is no confusion.

“Is this (amendment) language better than where we were at before? Probably,” Hoffman told the house. “Is this our best work? I don’t think so.

“I think we could do a very good service to the people of Alberta by actually spelling out the types of pregnancy loss, including abortion and termination of pregnancy for medical reasons.”

The bill took on heightened significance last week due to events in the United States, when a draft decision was leaked to media indicating U.S. Supreme Court judges are contemplating to overturn the 1973 landmark court decision Roe vs. Wade that guarantees the right to an abortion.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley told the house last week that leaders here must be vigilant to ensure such a decision does not take root and deprive Canadian women of their reproductive rights.

She called on Premier Jason Kenney, who opposes abortion, to affirm that his United Conservative government would not act to roll back those freedoms.

Kenney declined to do so but has previously said he considers abortion a settled issue in law and that his government wouldn't act to change it.

Notley said Kenney's refusal to affirm is a warning shot for women's freedoms. Kenney has accused Notley of trying to create a fresh political wedge issue where none exists.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2022