UCP MLAs confirm Alberta bereavement leave would cover abortion

The Alberta Legislature on Aug. 26, 2020. Eric Beck/Global News

The UCP introduced the Labour Statues Amendment Act in the Alberta legislature Tuesday.

As originally proposed, Bill 17 would amend the Employment Standards Code to expand access to bereavement leave to employees who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth. Any employee who would have been a parent — including biological parents, adoptive parents and surrogates — would be eligible for bereavement leave.

But when it was initially announced in April, the UCP didn’t make it clear if those accessing abortion or termination for medical reasons would be eligible for the bereavement leave.

On Tuesday, Labour Minister Kaycee Madu introduced an amendment to change the wording. It proposed the words “miscarriage” and “stillbirth” be replaced with “any pregnancy that ends in a result other than a live birth.”

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“(This legislation will cover) stillbirth, miscarriage and yes, abortion and termination for medical reasons.”

Several Opposition NDP members pointedly asked why the words “abortion” and “termination for medical reasons” were not included in the proposed amendment for clarity.

The 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.

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After numerous questions from NDP members in committee Tuesday, UCP MLA Michaela Frey said “the intention (of the amendment) certainly is to cover abortion and termination for medical reasons.”

The MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat, who described herself as personally pro-life, said in her opinion, this is “inclusive legislation.”

“This amendment does include abortion or termination for medical reasons,” Frey repeated.

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Shane Getson, another UCP MLA, said this amendment “was absolutely done with the best intent.”

Getson said the wording was chosen to keep it simple — to cover a pregnancy ending “in anything other than a live birth.”

However, NDP MLAs pushed for explicit wording and more clarity.

Sarah Hoffman said the amendment is likely an improvement on the initial wording of Bill 17, but is not the legislature’s “best work.”

“I really wish the government had been more definitive in the actual language,” she said.

“It would be really great if the government would explicitly state that this includes abortion and termination of pregnancy for medical reasons.”

Hoffman pointed out that a section cannot be amended more than once.

NDP MLA Marie Renaud shared her own personal experience and stated she feels Bill 17 is an important piece of legislation. She said the wording in the amendment doesn’t go far enough.

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“We all need to step up and reaffirm that abortion is a human right,” Renaud said.

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Madu said the wording was chosen in order to be as broad as possible.

He said the Labour Statues Amendment Act has the “most inclusive language that we can use to make sure that anyone out there who needs this bereavement leave… would not have to be denied it or face any difficulty or explain anything to any employer, and that’s the goal here.”

He said there are other reasons people may need a procedure that the leave could apply to and the wording shouldn’t limit them.

Madu also reiterated that “employees are not required to provide any proof… for reason of this leave.”

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The bill, which was introduced April 21, took on heightened significance last week due to events in the United States. A draft decision was leaked to media indicating U.S. Supreme Court judges are contemplating a move to overturn the 1973 landmark court decision Roe v. 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 UCP 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.

— with files from Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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