Thank you for inviting me to be here today to speak about the need for Bill C-243. It was amazing to hear Melodie's story and to be able to see where this is really coming from.
This is an exciting opportunity to evaluate the maternity benefit program in Canada. I'm hopeful that it will lead to changes that will mean every woman who chooses motherhood is supported in that decision from the earliest stages. I hope to contribute a voice that speaks for increasing the social value of motherhood and the need for a health benefit plan for pregnant and postpartum women.
I'm a mother of five children who range in age from three months to eight years. I was able to take maternity leave with my first three children, but for the last two, I fell short of the required hours. This was because I chose to work reduced hours in order to care for my other children, rather than putting them in other child care. I went back to work part time when my fourth child was eight months old, and now I'm starting part-time work again, now that my baby is three months old.
I am blessed to be able to work from home, but many women do not have that or do not want that. They would be faced with placing their babies in child care almost immediately if they were like me and didn't qualify for maternity leave benefits.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2009, 40% of new parents could not afford to take maternity leave at all, and 81% of them indicated that they would have stayed home longer if they had felt it were financially possible. This is overwhelming evidence that many women would choose motherhood as a career path, but are forced by finances to work two jobs: one as a mother and one to pay the bills. I work part-time as a researcher with a national pro-life organization, and I believe strongly in the need for holistic care for pregnant and postpartum women and their children.
In Canada, at least 100,000 abortions are performed annually, and the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada cites finances as a main reason women choose abortion. According to AbortioninCanada.ca, 20% of women seeking abortions cite finances as the number one reason that they're getting an abortion. They don't feel financially able to welcome a child. It's so discouraging to know that 20,000 abortions are occurring annually because the mothers don't feel financially able to take care of those children.
Obviously, a lot of progress can be made in how we support pregnant and postpartum women so they do feel able to make a choice that's not decided by finances and fear.
For me, caring for my children myself has always been a priority. I have not always felt social support for that choice, as our government continues to push funding for child care outside the home and puts significant emphasis on getting women back into the workforce as soon as possible. This subtle pressure creates social stigma around stay-at-home parenthood, and implies that women who do not re-enter the workforce as soon as possible are a burden and a drain on Canada's economy.
This implication devalues our next generation and the choice those women have made. The next generation will allow our economy to continue to function. Our fertility rate is well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman, and it has been for over 40 years. Our aging population is a growing concern. Obviously, this is not about forcing women to have two children each. It is about supporting those who would like to have children and about recognizing the contribution they make to Canadian society by doing so. When a woman chooses motherhood, that should be supported as a legitimate career choice, not a stopping point or a hindrance to another career path.
Along with a general shift to viewing motherhood as career choice like any other, I would suggest the committee consider also adding a health benefit plan to maternity and parental benefits. Such a plan would tangibly support women and children. For many women, particularly low-income earners and those who are self-employed, employment does not come with a health benefit plan. Maternity leave may be just enough to cover the necessities to allow a woman to stay home with her child, but extra costs, such as prescription medications, could be the tipping point that forces her back to work. For example, my son had bronchitis at two months of age, and the medication for a two-week treatment cost about $200. This is for an otherwise healthy child. Imagine the costs for a child who needs ongoing treatment and medication, or for a mother who needs treatment and medication. When finances are tight, costs may determine whether a woman gets counselling or medication to address postpartum depression, or physiotherapy to help restore her health after giving birth.
The implementation of health benefits would say that we care about ensuring the best health of the mother and that we want her to not just survive, but thrive, in her role as a mother. We do have an incredible health care system and maternity benefit program in Canada. I don't mean to discount that, but it's clear that people are falling through the cracks and more help is needed. I'm thankful for the maternity benefits I've been able to collect three times, but making motherhood a priority and a career choice for me has meant that, despite part-time work, I'm unable to benefit from maternity support for my last two children. I know that many without my support system would find that the current benefit system falls short, and often it's the women who need it most who suffer.
There's currently a gap evident in the lack of health plan benefits for many pregnant and postpartum women, and many women are choosing not to have children or choosing to end pregnancies for fear of the financial repercussions. There are many more women who are not getting pregnant in the first place because of financial fear, and many women who are not taking the best care of themselves physically and mentally during pregnancy and after giving birth because they fear the costs associated with seeking medical treatment. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada reports, “Many women state that they 'have no real choice,' [when having an abortion] as they do not have the financial resources to support themselves and a child.” All of this indicates a need for improvement. Motherhood is a choice like any other, and no woman should be made to feel lesser for taking maternity leave benefits or for choosing to stay home with her child.
Bill C-243 is an excellent opportunity to evaluate our national maternity assistance program and address gaps in the system. Improvements will show that we value motherhood and we want to ensure the best possible health for Canadian women and their children.
Thank you so much.