Why US Navy paid maternity leave is a big deal

Maternity leave triples to 18 weeks for women in the Navy and Marine Corps.

Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/AP/US Navy
Michelle Howard is the first woman to be promoted to the rank of admiral in the history of the Navy and will assume the duties and responsibilities as the 38th Vice Chief of Naval Operations from Adm. Mark Ferguson.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced on July 2 that women serving in the US Navy or Marine Corps would now be able to get 18 weeks of paid maternity leave. This is three times the amount that women in these two military branches were able to have before. The Navy and Marine Corps are now the first US military services to provide more than six weeks of maternity leave.

"With increased maternity leave, we can demonstrate the commitment of the Navy and Marine Corps to the women who are committed to serve," said Secretary Mabus in a press release.

The total of 18 weeks paid maternity leave is possible through 6 weeks of paid maternity leave, and 12 weeks paid convalescent leave, an absence intended to facilitate a personnel's return to full service. Additionally, the leave does not have to be taken all at once, although it does have to be taken within a year after the child's birth. The changes to the current policy for the Navy and Marine Corps are effective immediately, and can be applied to any woman in the Navy or Marine Corps who has given birth since January 1, 2015.

"We have incredibly talented women who want to serve, and they also want to be mothers and have the time to fulfill that important role the right way. We can do that for them. Meaningful maternity leave when it matters most is one of the best ways that we can support the women who serve our country. This flexibility is an investment in our people and our Services, and a safeguard against losing skilled service members," said Mabus.  

Mabus gave a speech to the US Naval Academy in May of this year, saying he wanted to extend paid maternity leave from the previous six week length to 12 weeks. He announced he was proposing legislation that would double the paid maternity leave from six to 12 weeks, which would begin next year. Whether or not those plans to change the maternity leave period itself, instead of the current solution of extending convalescent leave to apply after childbirth, is not certain.  

Under current regulations in other branches of the US military, the leave does have to be taken at once, and is limited to six weeks. Additionally, paternity leave is still limited to 10 days for married servicemen, and the days must be taken consecutively.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the US House by Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) of Illinois. The Military Opportunities for Mothers (MOMS) Act passed the House as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in 2014, but became stuck in committee in the Senate, and ultimately failed to pass because the session of Congress that it was introduced in expired.

Currently in the United States, federal employees do not receive any paid maternity leave. Members of Congress have sought to change this nearly every session of Congress. In January 2015, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D) of New York introduced the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, which would allow for six weeks of paid maternity leave for federal workers. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on House Administration, where it will be determined whether it will be passed to the whole House for a vote.

The US is currently one of two nations in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave; the other nation is Papua New Guinea.

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