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Sen. Tammy Duckworth Wants To Remove Stigma Around Miscarriages

Updated July 25, 2021 at 12:25 PM ET

Sen. Tammy Duckworth is calling for colleagues on Capitol Hill to support workers who have experienced a miscarriage.

This past week, the Illinois Democrat joined with Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., to introduce the Support Through Loss Act, which seeks, in part, to require employers to provide three days of paid leave to workers experiencing a pregnancy loss. The bill would also provide three days of leave for parents experiencing unsuccessful attempts at surrogacy, adoption or an assisted reproductive procedure.

"We want to be very clear that loss is loss and people deserve the time to deal with that loss," Duckworth tells NPR's Michel Martin on All Things Considered. "You're told to keep it personal, and yet you're not given the time to deal with it personally because you got to go right back to work."

Roughly 24,000 stillbirths occur in the United States annually, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The March of Dimes reports that 10% to 15% of known pregnancies end in a miscarriage.

Duckworth, who has experienced failed IVF cycles and a miscarriage, says that women get mixed messages on how to proceed after a pregnancy loss. She says that mixed messaging is something she experienced herself.

"My heart was broken. I was grieving and I was getting all of these mixed messages," she says. "On the one hand, go back on the campaign trail but don't talk about it. On the other hand, my doctor was saying this is perfectly normal. But I knew in my heart that my heart was broken."

The legislation also aims to allocate $45 million annually to the National Institutes of Health for research and programs around pregnancy loss, while pushing the Department of Health and Human Services to inform prenatal health care workers about pregnancy loss.

The bill is not entirely new to the current framework of leave. The federal Family Medical Leave Act provides unpaid leave for "serious health conditions," which includes miscarriages.

But Duckworth, the first senator to give birth while in office, says current policy falls short in several key areas.

"It doesn't cover assisted reproductive technology," Duckworth says. "It doesn't cover failed surrogacy. It doesn't cover the medical diagnosis that impacts fertility or pregnancy."

"This is just further clarification of policy that already exists under the family leave policy," Duckworth says, "and frankly this is the right thing to do."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robert Baldwin