On January 17, 2022, new laws came into effect around access to health care and paid leave for employees. We were thrilled to see the Liberal government support changes that recognize the trauma of losing a child before birth. Amendments to the Canada Labour Code include a leave of absence in the event of the death of a child under the age of 18 as well as “in the event of the loss of an unborn child.” All employees are entitled to up to eight weeks leave after a loss “where they would have been a parent.”
This amendment to the law subtly recognizes the humanity of pre-born children. It is clear, however, that the government was exercising caution in regard to their definitions. While the Labour Code references an unborn child, the law itself refers to an unborn child only as a fetus, while the pregnant woman is specifically referred to as a person. Stillbirth is specifically defined as “the complete expulsion or extraction of a fetus from a person on or after the twentieth week of pregnancy or after the fetus has attained at least 500 g(…).”
But this definition raises questions of its own. If the fetus at 20 weeks and beyond is worthy of grieving, why isn’t abortion illegal at that stage? And why is 20 weeks a defining moment? Why wouldn’t we recognize the loss equally at 19 weeks, or 18 weeks? Or from the very first week of life?
It is right to recognize the loss of a child in the case of stillbirth and create space for grief. Anyone who has experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth knows the emotional pain can be just as real as losing a born child. But we know that some women also face real physical and emotional pain after an abortion. It shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for our government to recognize that abortion is also the loss of a child’s life.
We hope that our government will wake up to the inconsistency in their reasoning and see all pre-born children as equal members of the human family whose lives deserve recognition and acknowledgement.