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Advocates Urge NY Legislature to Close Dangerous Paid Family Leave Gap NOW and Stop Putting the Lives of Stillbirth Mothers in Jeopardy
New York State law currently includes a cruel loophole that revokes the previously-approved Paid Leave of birthing parents whose babies are tragically stillborn;
Though the bill was passed unanimously in the Senate and has wide bipartisan support including co-sponsorship by nearly two-thirds of the Assembly, it has been hamstrung in the Assembly for weeks without explanation;
As time runs out on the legislative session, a coalition of bereaved parents is calling on the NY Legislature to expediently fix this dangerous gap and provide all birthing parents with the time needed to safely heal their bodies after childbirth;
NEW YORK - On Tuesday, June 6th, 2023, stillbirth advocates led by PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy (PUSH), a coalition of bereaved parents, medical providers, and allies on a mission to end preventable stillbirth in the United States, issued a call to action urging the NY State Legislature and Governor Kathy Hochul to pass legislation that would close a dangerous and cruel loophole in New York’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) Law which is currently stripping mothers of stillborn babies of their guaranteed weeks of paid time off from work following a traumatic childbirth. The current legislative session ends on Thursday, June 8th, and though the bill (A2880/S2175) was passed unanimously in the Senate in March, and has wide bipartisan support (currently co-sponsored by nearly two-thirds of the 150 Assemblymembers), it has been hamstrung in the Assembly for weeks without explanation.
As a recent blog post and several high-profile media exposés have detailed, NY birthing parents across the state like Cassidy Perrone and Natasha Green - along with up to 4 other New York families every single day - have fallen victim to this small, unintentional but ultimately devastating oversight in New York’s Paid Family Leave program. As champions for equitable maternal and postpartum health, Senator Tim Kennedy and Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar have stepped up as lead sponsors of S2175/A2880, and are joined by more than 125 of their colleagues in both chambers who have co-sponsored this bipartisan initiative.
Despite repeated commitments from Assembly and Senate leadership to stillbirth advocates reaffirming the Legislature’s resolve to address this glaring gap in the law that is actively harming families and putting birthing people’s lives at risk, legislative staff appear unable to agree on an approach that will close the loophole. Amended bill language has been proposed but the Assembly and Senate have not come to an agreement on a compromise, and it’s not clear to advocates if leadership of the two chambers are even communicating directly on this issue.
Cassidy Perrone, the stillbirth mother behind the bill, expressed her dismay in a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday, June 6th. “Although the Assembly has been holding up the bill, which already received unanimous approval in the Senate, we have been encouraged by assurances that addressing this inequity was a priority for you. Unfortunately, as the session draws to a close, it appears as if these words of support were nothing more than that – politically expedient rhetoric with no real desire to act on behalf of the mothers of stillborn children.” Cassidy’s daughter Olivia was born still 36 weeks into an otherwise normal and healthy pregnancy in March 2022.
Outraged constituents from across the state have deluged the Speaker’s office with calls demanding to know why there has been no visible movement on this critically important piece of legislation despite widespread public support and rare unity amongst lawmakers across the full length of the political spectrum. The bill has also received letters of support from Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, The Birthing Place / Womb Bus in the Bronx, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Dr. Mary D'Alton (OBGYN Chair at New York-Presbyterian / Columbia University Irving Medical Center), Bronx Health Link, ATIME, I Was Supposed to Have a Baby, Knafayim Wings, and dozens of other endorsers.
PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy Policy Director Allie Felker expounds, “If the NY Assembly fails to bring this widely-supported bill to a floor vote before the end of session this week, hundreds of New York birthing parents who, like Cassidy, tragically deliver stillborn babies over the next year will lose their previously approved Paid Family Leave benefits. They will be forced to make the completely inhumane choice between a paycheck and taking time to safely recover during the early postpartum period, which is well understood to be a dangerous time for all birthing people, regardless of the outcome of their pregnancy. In fact, women who suffer a stillbirth have been shown to be almost five times as likely to suffer severe maternal complications compared to those who deliver living babies.”
It is not commonly understood that stillbirth is still birth: stillborn babies (those who die in utero in the second half of pregnancy or during labor) must still be born like any other baby. Regardless of whether her baby is born alive or still, a postpartum mother suffers from heavy vaginal bleeding, abdominal cramping, painful breast engorgement from lactation (which still happens after a stillbirth and can take weeks to resolve), and other physical effects of the profound hormonal changes and physical trauma of birth. Mothers whose babies are delivered via C-section must heal from major abdominal surgery; they are restricted from operating a motor vehicle for at least two weeks or lifting anything heavier than a newborn baby for at least four to six weeks. All postpartum birthing people are at risk for life-threatening conditions such as postpartum depression/psychosis, postpartum hemorrhage, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, obstetric infections, and postpartum preeclampsia for weeks after delivering a baby.
“A woman who has a stillborn child still goes through the trauma of labor and birth, and this is compounded by the loss of a child,” Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson wrote in her April 2023 Black Maternal Health Week letter to Governor Hochul. “It is a cruel injustice that women do not have the protections to recover from a pregnancy if their child is not born alive. This issue also affects Black women disproportionately; Black women experience stillbirth at more than twice the rate of White women.”
In the United States, approximately 40 percent of pregnancy-related maternal deaths occur within the first six weeks after childbirth. Natasha Green, who developed postpartum preeclampsia after her daughter's stillbirth, is a chilling example of why paid leave is so crucial for all birthing people, but especially stillbirth mothers, and especially Black and Indigenous mothers, who are disproportionately impacted by unacceptable disparities in maternal health outcomes due to systemic racism.
“We have talked with dozens and dozens of lawmakers, and there has literally not been one objection to closing the gap to protect NY’s stillbirth parents,” says PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy Executive Director Samantha Banerjee. “The only pushback we’ve received is from a very small handful of policy wonks and purists who insist that the ‘intention’ of Paid Family Leave is only to care for others, not for yourself. But where does that leave single mothers like Natasha, or moms who are their family’s primary breadwinner like Cassidy? Is it really the ‘intention’ of NY State’s PFL to leave stillbirth parents out to dry like this? It’s totally unconscionable.”
The fact of the matter is, recovering from delivering a stillborn baby is a unique circumstance that deserves protection under PFL. Sacrificing maternal health for statutory consistency – so that employees only use PFL to care for someone else – is a nonsensical and inhumane approach to policy-making. Paid Family Leave is New York State’s de facto maternity leave policy; it must be fixed to cover all postpartum people.
In addition, estimates (see footnote) show that closing this callous oversight would cost New Yorkers paying into the PFL program a maximum of $1 per person per year. That represents a negligible 0.8% increase in PFL spending to fund A2880 through the existing employee-funded PFL pool, to which eligible stillbirth mothers have already contributed for the benefits they are being routinely denied.
In short, there are no compelling reasons not to pass A2880. The writing is on the wall: NY’s existing PFL law endangers the health of parents who deliver stillborn babies; Amending it is not only necessitated by basic human decency, but is also smart public health and labor policy.
This week’s advocacy push comes on the heels of the inaugural Postpartum Awareness Week (PAW), a new campaign urging the nation to focus attention, resources, and energy on the Postpartum Period when Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) women and birthing parents are most at risk for pregnancy-related complications and fatal outcomes. Given that Black and Indigenous parents are at 2-3 times the risk of stillbirth, that women who experience a stillbirth are almost 5 times as likely to experience severe maternal complications, and that more than half of maternal deaths occur in the Postpartum period, these issues are intimately linked. PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy is proud to be part of the collective launching PAW and a sponsor of the initiative. As a follow on to Postpartum Awareness Week, PUSH advocates are raising awareness about the unique dangers faced by stillbirth parents, and particularly BIPOC stillbirth parents, in the postpartum period.
It is indefensible for NY Legislators and Governor Hochul to continue to leave stillbirth families in the untenable position of deciding whether to put their physical health in jeopardy to return to work before universally accepted medically standards, or face financial ruin. “Right now, and until this dangerous gap in the PFL law is fixed, New York State is victimizing up to four NY stillbirth mothers every single day during the critical postpartum period when their lives are most at risk,” said PUSH Executive Director Samantha Banerjee in a recent letter to NY Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Labor Committee Chair Latoya Joyner. “Continuing to force postpartum mothers of stillborn babies to choose between their paycheck and recovering their physical health undermines your leadership on improving maternal health in New York State. Please do the right thing and schedule a vote on this bill.”
Footnote: Approximately 40 percent of New Yorkers are eligible to participate in the Paid Family Leave program (New York State Paid Family Leave Report 2018-2021, https://www.dfs.ny.gov/reports_and_publications/pfl). In 2020, there were 1,338 stillbirths in New York State (Fetal Deaths, Centers. for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics http://wonder.cdc.gov/fetal-deaths-expanded-current.html). If 40 percent of the mothers of stillborn babies took 12 weeks of paid leave at the maximum weekly benefit of $1,131.08, this would generate no more than $7.3 million of paid leave claims annually. This represents approximately 0.8 percent of the more than $875 million of PFL claims paid in 2021. Given that approximately eight million employees pay into NY’s PFL program, that works out to no more than $1 per person per year to fund A2880 and close this dangerous and cruel loophole endangering stillbirth mothers’ lives.
About PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy
We're on a mission to end preventable stillbirth, and we're not taking no for an answer.
65 babies are dying in the second half of pregnancy every single day in the U.S. - that’s 21,000 each year, most of them otherwise healthy, and all of them deeply loved. Many of these babies were our babies, and many of them could have been saved.
PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy exists for one reason, and one reason alone: to cut the US stillbirth rate by 20% by the end of 2030, in half by 2050, and in time, eradicate all preventable stillbirths. We are a diverse coalition of bereaved parents from around the country, and we are working closely with trailblazing medical researchers, courageous doctors, and other hardworking allies to drive down the incidence of stillbirth in the United States over the next decade by any means necessary.
Through partnerships with health providers and aggressive awareness campaigns, we will empower every expectant family with the equitable, evidenced-based medical care and education they need to advocate for a healthy pregnancy, giving parents and babies the best possible chance to make it home safely together.
No family should have to endure what we have endured. We are saying ENOUGH.
#UnitedWePush For Families, For Babies. For Change.
Learn more at www.pushpregnancy.org
Contact: Samantha Banerjee or Allie Felker, firstname.lastname@example.org, 223-344-7874