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Advocates say Portland is first in nation to provide bereavement leave for employees after abortion

Portland leaders approved bereavement leave for people who have undergone abortions.
City of Portland
Portland leaders approved bereavement leave for people who have undergone abortions.

A seldom-read section of Portland city government’s human resources policy has started to draw national attention from abortion-rights advocates.

The city council unanimously approved changes earlier this month to their bereavement leave policy that advocates say puts Portland on the cutting edge of abortion-rights legislation. With that vote, advocates say, the city became the first in the nation to allow public employees to take paid time off after an abortion.

Under the new policy, city employees will be able to take up to three days of bereavement leave if they’ve had a miscarriage, stillbirth or any other type of pregnancy loss. The policy states that this includes abortion “irrespective of whether deemed medically necessary.”

Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst with reproductive health research organization Guttmacher Institute, has been tracking local reproductive health policy for over two decades. She said bereavement leave that incorporates miscarriages and stillbirths is rare. She’d never heard of policies that include abortion.

“This is just incredibly uncommon,” she said.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said she believed the policy could help destigmatize a procedure that some employees may feel uncomfortable talking about with anyone, much less their boss.

“It’s important to recognize that employees need time to address their reproductive health needs ... and they may need time to process what they’re experiencing,” Miller said. “A policy like this is a really important step forward in providing that kind of support to employees and in recognition of the fact that we aren’t just robots.”

The push to overhaul the city bereavement policy began last summer. Deputy city attorney Anne Milligan, a member of the city’s LGBTQ affinity group, told city council members during their deliberations that many employees didn’t feel represented under the old leave rules. At the time, the policy only allowed employees to take time off to mourn people they were related to biologically or through marriage.

As part of the overhaul of the policy, Michelle Rodriguez, a senior policy advisor in Commissioner Mingus Mapps’ office, said she wanted to bring pregnancy loss into the discussion. Rodriguez said she’d been monitoring legislation passed in New Zealand that would give people three days of paid leave for miscarriages and stillbirths.

Rodriguez said she felt there was a need to take the city’s policy further and incorporate abortion. Employees told her of using sick days or vacation days in the aftermath of a pregnancy loss. One staffer she spoke with was new to the city and had not accrued any time off she could use.

“She essentially took days without pay to deal with both her physical reaction to what ended up being a medical termination with her doctor’s help and the emotional and psychological impact of what happened,” Rodriguez said. “I’m like, ‘OK, we need to figure out how to actually call this out and be proudly saying that this city wants to support families as they’re going through this process.’”

Under the new policy, employees can use bereavement leave for any type of pregnancy loss as well as the death of “any individual related by close affinity.” That includes unmarried partners and “any person with whom the employee has a significant personal bond that is like a familial relationship.”

It’s the second time in two months the city has made headlines for abortion-related policies. Last month, the council agreed to set aside $200,000 to fund abortion care after Texas passed legislation that dramatically curtails access to the procedure.

In the aftermath of the Texas legislation, Nash, who analyzes reproductive health policies across the United States, said she’s been mostly focused on places concerned about copycat bans. Portland stuck out.

“It’s a bit of whiplash for me, honestly,” she said.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Rebecca Ellis