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Sunday, March 25, 2007More than 20 people testified at a recent hearing in regards to breastfeeding legislation making it's way through the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Health and Health Care Reform. An additional 90 people registered as supporters of the bill. Not a single dissenting voice was present.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinell reported this week that the bill is under review, but is expected to successfully move out of committee. If the bill passes in it's present form, it would be one of the strongest laws on the nation in terms of protecting breastfeeding mothers from harassment.
As it's currently written, the bill would explicitly protect the right of a mother to nurse her child in any public OR private location that the two of them are otherwise authorized to be. The bill also levies a $200 fine against any individual (including security guards and police officers) that attempts to prevent a child from breastfeeding.
Wisconsin's currently breastfeeding legislation merely exempts breastfeeding from being considered "lewd behavior."
The bill is receiving support from breastfeeding mothers and health care professionals.
Jenny Thomas, a Racine pediatrician and lactation consultant, told the committee that despite research showing breast-feeding is the healthiest option for infants and mothers, many women don't try it because of cultural barriers toward feeding when out of the home, Thomas said.
"What we're trying to do is make women feel comfortable in the public arena," Thomas said.
Karissa Andrews, a mother of two from McFarland, said she was nursing her baby in a Madison mall when a store employee told her she had to stop and reported her to security. Security guards approached the bench where she nursed but didn't confront her, she said.
"Breast-feeding harassment is a problem for many Wisconsin families, and it needs to stop," Andrews told the committee.
Some lawmakers asked about provisions in other states' laws regarding breast-feeding that say nursing mothers should be discreet.
More than 35 states have laws to protect nursing in public, and a few say the mothers must be discreet, Thomas said. She argued that such a provision wouldn't help encourage women to breast-feed because determining what is discreet is entirely subjective.
I hope any Wisconsin readers that haven't already contacted their representatives to encourage them to support the bill would do so. Wisconsin is at the forefront of lactivism right now...the wording of this bill (specifically, the inclusion of a fine) really gives this law teeth.
What I wonder though, is how this law gets enforced. It's great that there's a fine, but what qualifies as harassment and is a mother's word enough to get the fine levied? Obviously if someone calls the police, there's a record of the harassment and it would be easy enough to levy the fine, but what happens in more murky cases.
What if a mom is nursing in the mall and someone approaches them to let them know that there's a nursing mother's room. Not because they want them to leave, but because they thought they were being helpful. Can an angry mother have that person charged under this law? Or is there a clear line drawn between "informing" and "demanding?"
Let me be clear, I think it's fantastic that a breastfeeding law with teeth is being considered, but as someone that knows any law can be abused, I'd like to know exactly how this law is going to be enforced and where lines would be drawn.
Jake? You around? Can you share any insight with us?