New Bill Would Offer Paid Leave for Pregnancy Loss and Other Family-Building Losses
The Support Through Loss Act would provide time to grieve, something that's so desperately needed.
Whether you’re trying to conceive on your own, through assisted reproductive medicine or pursuing adoption or surrogacy—family-building can be joyful and challenging all at once. There’s no guarantee that beginning any of these processes will result in welcoming a child, and many people face loss along the way.
While often underreported, it’s estimated that pregnancy loss occurs in 10-20% of known pregnancies.1 Unsuccessful fertility treatments, adoption, or surrogacy arrangements are also common. All the while, whether due to stigma, a lack of awareness, or hustle culture, Americans are expected to work through the physical, mental, and emotional toll of these experiences.
That’s a gap in federal labor law that Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass, have committed to addressing with a new bill introduced on October 26, 2023, in both the Senate and the House. It is very appropriately called the Support Through Loss Act.2
How the Bill Originated
The Support Through Loss Act has been in the works for several years, Senator Duckworth tells Parents. In 2016, she experienced a miscarriage that she didn’t talk about at the time, as it was “such a shock.”
“I was a Congresswoman at the time, and I had to go back to work the same day that I found out I lost the baby,” she recalls. Staff members of the Senator had been through pregnancy loss as well, and eventually, one of her team members took the bill on as her personal project, “fighting for a family’s ability to have some time to grieve.”
Congresswoman Pressley similarly witnessed several women in her friend group navigate pregnancy loss during the pandemic. One was an educator who miscarried, and within hours, had to return to the classroom and suffer in silence, she remembers.
“Unfortunately, as women, it has become a conflated and normalized part of our identity in this culture that we are always carrying shame, and there was loneliness, isolation, shame, about pregnancy loss,” Rep. Pressley tells Parents. “I was actively in community with those closest to the pain and because of their proximity to me, I wanted to then advance responsive legislation to meet their needs.”
It was also important to both legislators that their bill went beyond pregnancy loss to address the many ways in which Americans pursue family-building.
“I wanted to make sure that it was about a loss of pregnancy and unsuccessful fertility treatment—because I went through many rounds of fertility treatments—a failed adoption or failed surrogacy, as well as a devastating medical diagnosis that somebody says, ‘Hey, you’re never gonna be able to have children,’” explains the Senator. “Those are all instances that can take a real physical and mental toll on hopeful parents. Any way that you're trying to become a family and you lose that opportunity, the grief is still the same.”
Both the Senator and the Congresswoman agree there’s a heightened sense of urgency around legislation like this post-Dobbs.
“When I had my miscarriage, I had to have a [dilation and curettage] D&C in order to resume my IVF treatment,” recalls the Senator. “Because it was after six weeks that I lost a pregnancy, I would not, in many states today, be able to get that D&C, because it wouldn't be a life-threatening situation. Very severe anti-choice legislation actually would have prevented me from actually starting another IVF cycle. So these very anti-choice pieces of legislation around the country are actually affecting people who are trying to start a family as well.”
It’s actually for that very reason, that the Congresswoman feels “emboldened” to pass the Support for Loss Act. “The fall of Roe really underscored the importance of protecting and expanding access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care and that does include people managing or experiencing pregnancy loss,” she notes.
What the Support Through Loss Act Aims to Do
The bill is broken down into two parts: Paid Leave and Education & Research.3 Specifically, the Support Through Loss Act covers these three areas.
If passed, the Support Through Loss Act would require employers to provide at least seven days of paid leave for workers to process and address health needs—including mental health—following a pregnancy loss; an unsuccessful assisted reproductive technology procedure, adoption arrangement, or surrogacy arrangement; or a medical diagnosis or event that impacts pregnancy or fertility.2
“We need to make sure that no one loses pay simply because they need time to grieve,” says Sen. Duckworth. “And we need to understand that there's a universal loss and grieving process that comes from not being able to grow your family [however] you're pursuing [that].”
The seven days of paid leave required by the Support Through Loss Act feel like a natural extension of paid leave for bereavement, which many U.S. employers already offer.
“At some point, we'll all need to care for someone or to be cared for,” says Rep. Pressley. “Loss and illness, these are inevitabilities in life. And we have to support our workforce, our community members, our family members, in their bereavement, in their grief.”
The bill would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop and disseminate educational resources for the public regarding pregnancy loss and the range of treatment options for pregnancy loss, including recurrent pregnancy loss.2
Not only would these resources be created for people suffering various types of loss while pursuing parenthood, but they’d be geared toward healthcare providers as well. This could serve to bolster comprehensive mental health support as well as enhance knowledge of the necessary procedures and medications to manage miscarriage, points out the Congresswoman.
These educational resources also aim to raise awareness and help people facing pregnancy loss feel less alone, adds the Senator.
“Pregnancy loss is a very common thing to happen but when you're going through it, you feel very alone,” she notes. “Sitting there not in [my] doctor's office, in my patient gown, I felt like it was just me. Especially as more people are participating in fertility treatments more, this is a very common experience, and we need to be more upfront about it.”
The Support Through Loss Act provides $45 million in annual funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to expand, intensify, and coordinate research and programs with respect to pregnancy loss in an effort to provide better patient-centered care for all families.2
“This will help us to increase data collection to better understand the prevalence of pregnancy loss and how we can support those who experience it,” explains the Congresswoman.
What Comes Next and How You Can Get Involved
Local legislation focused on paid leave for reproductive loss has already passed in Boston and the state of California, which only seems to underscore both legislators’ hopefulness that they have the momentum to pass the Support Through Loss Act.
Anyone who wants to get involved would do well to “raise their voice,” says the Congresswoman.
'Engage your members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and encourage them to sign on as co-sponsors,” advises Rep. Pressley. “If you think about issues like infant mortality or the Black maternal morbidity crisis, these things were lone canaries in the coal mine. But now they’re part of our daily discourse [and] we continue to work for a whole government response to address them.”
And “by keeping the drumbeat up,” the Congresswoman believes legislation for family-building loss will ultimately be successful, as well.
By: Maressa Brown
Next Article Previous Article