Abortion will qualify for bereavement leave in proposed labour bill amendment, minister says

Labour and Immigration Minister Kaycee Madu confirmed Tuesday that a proposed amendment will allow those who have had an abortion to qualify for bereavement leave.

NDP accused of turning debate into a partisan issue

A man wearing glasses and a suit stands in front of Alberta and Canada flags.
Labour and Immigration Minister Kaycee Madu confirmed his amendment to Bill 17 would allow bereavement leave for people who have had an abortion. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Alberta Labour and Immigration Minister Kaycee Madu confirmed Tuesday that a proposed amendment will allow those who have had an abortion to qualify for bereavement leave.

Madu's amendment to Bill 17, Labour Statutes Amendment Act, 2022, extends bereavement leave to any pregnancy that ends in a result other than a live birth. 

"The amendment before us is the broadest approach which addresses any situation where a pregnancy ends, regardless of the reason, or the timing for the end of the pregnancy," Madu told the legislature. 

"And yes, [to] the members opposite, that also includes abortion." 

Madu's statement came after nearly two hours of debate mostly dominated by three female NDP MLAs: Janis Irwin of Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, Sarah Hoffman of Edmonton-Glenora and Marie Renaud of St. Albert. 

They said Madu's proposal wasn't sufficient because it didn't specify abortion and termination for medical reasons as situations where someone could take three days of unpaid leave. They called on the minister to clarify what his amendment covered.

"Is this amendment better than the bill was before the amendment? Maybe," Hoffman said. "Is this amendment our best work? I don't think so." 

Bill 17, Labour Statutes Amendment Act, 2022, amends the section of the employment standards code that grants job-protected leave to employees dealing with the death of a family member. 

The original version of the bill extended three days of unpaid leave to anyone affected by miscarriage and stillbirth. The proposed legislation is now in the committee of the whole stage of debate where MLAs can propose and debate amendments. 

Governments don't often amend their own legislation but it does happen on occasion. 

Madu said he proposed his change after talking to stakeholders including Aditi Loveridge, founder and CEO of the Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support Centre. Loveridge met with the government after reviewing the words of Bill 17 after it was introduced last month. She has called on Madu to make the language as broad and inclusive as possible. 

Non-partisan debate becomes partisan

The issue of abortion has been tricky for the governing United Conservative party as a number of MLAs have a history of opposition to abortion, including Premier Jason Kenney.

The NDP hammered the government on abortion access after a leaked decision suggested the Supreme Court in the United States may overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case. 

Mark Smith, the UCP MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon, said he supported the broad language in the amendment as it allows people time to grieve the loss of a pregnancy, including women he says have regretted their abortions. 

"Their grief is real," Smith said. " And the time to mourn is necessary even when, and maybe especially when, the loss of the pregnancy is the result of an abortion." 

Opposition MLAs seized on Smith's statement as evidence of the government's hidden agenda on abortion. They also pointed to Kenney's reluctance to comment on the Roe v. Wade issue and his refusal to confirm whether his government would maintain access to abortion in Alberta. 

Madu said he was disappointed the NDP used the debate to take swipes at the government on abortion. 

"They are not interested in the substance of the amendment," he said.  "They would rather make this bill that should not be a subject of partisan conversation a partisan issue." 

The discussion ended without a vote on the amendment. The bill will be up for debate again in the coming days.