In the United States, there are no federal policies that guarantee maternity leave for new mothers. The time and pay a woman receive varies by state and organization. FemCatholic, a media company dedicated to having honest conversations about Catholic women, published a report in 2022 showing that very few dioceses in the United States provide comprehensive maternity leave.
Samantha Povlock, founder of FemCatholic, and Renee Roden, a journalist who worked on the report, joined “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” on Aug. 24 to discuss their findings and why they believe Catholic organizations should be leading the way in pro-family policies.
“I wish I were surprised that the number of dioceses that offered a full 12 weeks of paid leave was so low,” Roden expressed.
The report was done in March 2022 and at the time only four dioceses offered a full 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. These were the Archdioceses of New York, Chicago, Omaha, and the Diocese of Raleigh. Since then, one additional archdiocese has begun to offer paid maternity leave — the Archdiocese of Denver.
“Two things were surprising: One is it should be surprising that Catholic dioceses, so few of them, are offering women the 12 weeks of fully paid leave,” she said. “I think another thing that’s surprising is that 1 in 4 women go back to work two weeks after giving birth.”
Roden explained that in the report they also discussed the “medical realities of childbirth” and how essential those 12 weeks after giving birth, which are starting to be called the “fourth trimester,” are not only for the mother but also for the child.
Povlock, a mother of four, added: “Those early days are just so vital in building mom and baby’s connection and I think it really is the way we’re designed as people, so giving families that time is really important.”
Many of the dioceses who were not providing paid maternity leave were concerned about the cost, Roden shared.
“Studies show that 55% to 69% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, so it’s just unrealistic for them to take that 12 weeks off without pay,” she explained. “So it puts a burden on the company and dioceses feel like they may not be able to afford that.”
However, the FemCatholic report found that not all of the four dioceses offering paid maternity leave were among the richest.
Roden pointed out that the Diocese of Raleigh and Archdiocese of Omaha “don’t have as big of assets as these other two archdioceses.”
She added: “So, I think it showed us that obviously we understand when people say they think finances are a barrier to doing that but it showed us that finances aren’t prohibitive of companies or dioceses being able to offer these policies.”
Both Roden and Povlock shared that after their report was published several dioceses — including Tucson, Orange, and Arlington — have taken steps in the right direction to improve their maternity leave policies.
“They’re doing what they can and it’s a step in the right direction, and I think all those baby steps in the right direction are really encouraging to see,” Roden said.
Povlock added: “I want to call on business people and leaders in our Church to help advance these types of business policies for women.”
Ascension, the media company responsible for the popular “Bible in a Year” podcast with Father Mike Schmitz, recently unveiled its parental leave policy, which expands new moms’ fully paid maternity leave from one week to 12 weeks. It also includes six weeks for paternity leave and extended leave time for new parents to adopt, as well as leave for those who experience a miscarriage.
Jonathan Strate, CEO of Ascension, told “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” that Catholics “have an opportunity to lead the way” in terms of setting the bar when it comes to maternity leave policies.
“These are the kind of policies that do help build a culture of life. To really send the message that you can be a working parent and you can raise a family and the work should be able to support the family,” he said.
Strate explained that while creating their new leave policies, they did not see many templates available from other companies to draw from. Due to this, they decided to make theirs available for other companies who may want to implement similar pro-family policies for their employees.
He invited viewers to visit ascensionpress.com/familyleave to see its policies.
“Hopefully that helps some other organizations to adopt these a little bit quicker,” he said.