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Finally, a Breastfeeding Law With Teeth!

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.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The women of Dane County in Wisconsin should be proud. Just this week the county board passed a new ordinance that not only makes breastfeeding in any public location expressly legal, but that also lays out a fine for businesses that are caught interfering with a mother's right to nurse her child. In other words, if a business now tries to kick a breastfeeding mom out of their establishment, they not only face the possible wrath of other nursing moms, they also face a fine.

In other words, this law actually means something!

From Channel 3000 News:

The ordinance prohibits anyone from interfering with a breastfeeding mother in any public place in Dane County.

Now one Madison mother, who is also a county board supervisor, said she hopes to make experiences like that a thing of the past.

"Technically, if you're a store owner and you see someone nursing and you want them to stop nursing, you may ask them to leave. So, this would stop you from asking them to leave," said Supervisor Carousel Bayrd.

The county-wide ordinance now bans anyone from interfering with a breastfeeding mother.

That's something worth celebrating and it's important to note the difference between THIS ordinance and the many others being put into place around the country. See, this ordinance lays out a specific fine of $10 to $100 for any business that tries to make a mother leave simply because she's breastfeeding. In other words, it makes it illegal for a business to discriminate against a breastfeeding mom.

That's a good thing. It's also something that few moms realize we NEED. After all, lots of states already have laws in place protecting a mother's right to breastfeed, right?

Sort of. You see, there are a couple issues at play here.

Firstly, breastfeeding in public is already legal in every single location in the United States. Yes, yes, I know...some of you are saying "buy my state hasn't passed a law on the issue yet." That really doesn't matter. Breastfeeding is still legal. Why? Because in the United States, unless something is specifically made ILLEGAL through the enactment of a law, statute or ordinance, it is legal.

So now you're asking why we need to put laws in place.

Well, for several reasons. Firstly, to protect moms from being prosecuted for things like indecent exposure, public nudity or any other number of things. That's why many states go beyond the simple "mom can breastfeed any place she otherwise has the right to be" language and include additional language that exempts breastfeeding mothers from public indecency charges. So these laws do give moms SOME measure of protection.

However, with that in mind, these laws are NOT enough.

As I've heard it put by a lawyer... "A right without a remedy is no right at all."

What does that mean? Well, it means that in states that have these "right to breastfeed wherever, whenever" moms cannot be arrested for breastfeeding their child. Unfortunately, it also means that businesses still have the "right" to decide to toss you from their premises and the moms have no legal recourse. Yep. In every state in the United States, businesses have the right to "refuse service" to anyone they want, unless that person is a member of a legally defined "protected class." )For the record, that basically means that they can't make you leave because of the color of your skin, your faith or your gender...but because they think you're ugly? Yep. Because they think you smell bad? Yep. Because you are breastfeeding? YEP.)

All those states that "protect" a mom's right to breastfeed by passing laws? Well those laws ONLY protect mom from being prosecuted, they don't protect her from being discriminated against. That means that just as a breastfeeding mom can say "I have the legal right to breastfeed my child here" a business owner can respond "and I have the legal right to ask you to leave and to call the cops if you don't." The law is a complicated little thing. Annoying, isn't it?

So how do we get to where a mom has recourse for being kicked out of a movie theatre, or escorted from a ball park for breastfeeding? Well, there are two different options.

First, we can start fighting for more ordinances like this one passed in Dane County. (Philadelphia has a similar statute.) We need laws that lay out clear consequences for businesses that discriminate against breastfeeding moms. Laws that make it clear that women not only have the right to breastfeed, but that businesses do NOT have the right to make those breastfeeding moms leave. Otherwise businesses will continue to be able to ask moms to leave and even to charge them with trespassing if they refuse.

Second, we can work to get breastfeeding moms included as a "protected class" in other state constitutions or the federal constitution. Doing so would give nursing moms the same recourse as a woman that is being discriminated against because of her gender, a Jewish person being discriminated against because of their faith or an Asian person being discriminated against because of their race.

Personally, I'd prefer to see us work on the first option. As much as breastfeeding MUST be protected, it is a matter of personal choice and I think we cheapen the very real issues faced by people of certain colors, creeds or genders when it comes to being discriminated against. In other words, I just don't think it's a good idea to start tacking personal actions on to "protected class" lists. I think we'd be starting a slippery slope AND I think it would be a hard battle to win anyway.

What's going to be more effective is to work with local, state and federal legislators to amend the existing breastfeeding laws and to pass new ones. We've seen great movement in the past few years toward protecting moms that choose to breastfeed in public. Now we need to move again to give moms additional protection by laying out consequences for people or businesses that interfere with a mom's right to nurse her child.

Only then will a breastfeeding mom TRULY be able to have the confidence to nurse anytime, anywhere without fear of being asked to leave.

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  1. Anonymous Anonymous | 8:45 AM |  

    Awesome! I would love to see something like that enacted at the federal level.

  2. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:47 PM |  

    Wow, that is great. :)

  3. Anonymous Anonymous | 1:57 PM |  

    GREAT! I am working on my college persuasive writting essay. I've chosen breastfeeding in public as my topic. I love teading about laws changing from a "general" idea to a detailed clear fact! protection through education! ~mom of 3 breastfeed children still trying my best to better my daughters world~

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