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Update on South Carolina Breastfeeding Bill and Victoria's Secret

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Many thanks to Amanda for passing on news that the South Carolina Breastfeeding bill is advancing for a full House vote.)

Just last week I wrote about the mother that was told she could not breastfeed in the dressing room at Victoria's Secret. I also mentioned that State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston was sponsoring Senate Bill 4373, a bill designed to protect the rights of women to breastfeed in any public location that she would otherwise be.

I've had a chance to do some digging on the updates to this issue and to do some more thinking on what my personal stance is on the Victoria's Secret issue.

First, a possible issue to point out with the Victoria's Secret thing. I was talking to my husband and best friend the other night, both of which are big supporters of breastfeeding and of breastfeeding in public. The interesting thing though...is that I told them that Ms. Rueger asked if she could breastfeed in one of the dressing rooms and was told no, they both said "well yeah, that makes sense." I asked what they meant and both of them said, well that's where people need to go to try on clothes, what if they had a sudden influx of customers and needed the space? It's not Victoria's Secrets job to sacrifice the ability of their customers to buy so that a mom can breastfeed. I thought that this was an interesting point.

Now, I'm going to guess, based on the followup call to headquarters where they suggested she just get a babysitter the next time, that they would have said no even if she asked for a chair to sit in while in the store...but I'm also going to point out that it's POSSIBLE that the reason she was told no and that they suggested that she head to the restrooms next door was because the sales associate simply couldn't let a non-shopping customer take up dressing room space. Another thing they pointed out was that if the restrooms are anything like the ones at our new malls, it's not a place that you wouldn't want to nurse. The restrooms at our malls have a GIANT lounge when you first walk in that's filled with comfy couches and chairs. Then you go through ANOTHER door into the actual restrooms. Thus, if the clerk thought she wanted privacy, this was a reasonable suggestion.

Now remember, I'm playing devil's advocate here. I'm still guessing that this was just an example of someone not wanting someone to breastfeed in their store, but it was interesting to have my friend (who works in retail) point out the other side of things. It's sort of like the whole incident at the Y. There WAS a legitimate reason for asking her to leave...there was a no food or drink policy and even though nursing is also for comfort, the reality is that there IS food involved. Thus, it breaks the policy.

That's what leads to some of the interesting comments I've found on the S. Carolina breastfeeding bill. State Rep. John Graham Altman, R-Charleston has said many times over the past few weeks that he planned to speak against the bill. Not because he doesn't support the right of a mom to nurse in public, but because he worries about what this will do to business owners in giving them the rights to decide what happens on their own premises. But, I see this as a two-fold issue and I'm not sure which side he comes down on.

1.) It's possible that he is worried that places like the Y that have a no food or drink policy will be forced to compromise those policies for breastfeeding mothers.

Another issue is that the wording says "anyplace that the mother is otherwise authorized to be" NOT "anyplace that the mother and her child are otherwise authorized to be." My reason for noting that difference? I used to volunteer in the cafe in my church. Because the cafe was open to the public for lunch and dinner, it was regulated by the board of health the same way that any other restaurant would be. That meant that while I, the mother, was allowed in the food prep area, my child, a minor was not. State health regulations do not allow "children" to be in an area where food is prepared.

According to the letter of the law, if I could be there, then they'd have to let me nurse my child...but doing so would break the rules of the board of health and could cause them to lose their operating license.

2.) It's also possible that he simply means that businesses should be able to decide what happens on their own premises. I agree with this if it's an issue like whether or not to sell alcohol, or whether you want to let people smoke...I have a hard time with the government saying "you can or can't do this" to someone that runs a private business.

HOWEVER...you cannot legally say "well, I don't want to serve blacks" or "I don't want to to serve Asians." It's discrimination. I think in this instance, a nursing mom falls into the same boat. I don't think this is an issue that a business has the right to discriminate against if it isn't violating some board of health law.

The bill moved to the House for a full vote on Tuesday. I'll continue to update as I hear whether or not it has passed.

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  1. Anonymous Alena | 7:35 AM |  

    I see your point of them needing to leave the dressing rooms for customers, however, I don't think it had anything to do with the employee's rude comments. If the woman tried to breastfeed right there inside the store, the employee's reaction would have probably been even more offensive.

    I learned my lesson, and I breastfeed anywhere I want, without asking for permission. Several times that I did ask for permission, I was directed towards the bathroom. So no thanks. I find that most of the time when you're already nursing your baby, people leave you alone.

  2. Blogger Jennifer | 8:05 AM |  

    I'm with you, I really do think that this was a "not gonna happen" kind of response that would have happened no matter what...but I could see a legitimate reason for a store to do that.

    I want to be fair to these companies when I'm getting ready to slam them, ;) and I think someone has to play devil's advocate, but unfortunately, it almost always happens the exact way that it's portrayed.

    Education...it will take time, but eventually, we'll get past a lot of this.

  3. Blogger Amanda | 8:04 AM |  

    FYI- How can you help? Please contact your representative in the next few days and let them know that you stand behind the right of mothers to breastfeed. Contact both your state senator and your state representative. You are their constituent and they will listen. To find out who your senator and representative are, go to http://www.scstatehouse.net and click on "Find Your Legislator." Send your e-mails, letters and phone calls. Empower yourself to speak up for all women and children in South Carolina. Ask them to vote for bill H-4347.
    If you would like to learn more about this legislation, get an update on this issue, or just some ideas on what to write to your representative, go to the SC Breastfeeding Action Committee web site at http://www.scbac.org/default.asp.
    Thank you for supporting breastfeeding, healthy decisions, and women and children throughout South Carolina.

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