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Hearing on Wisconsin Breastfeeding Bill Garners Support

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.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

More 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?

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  1. Anonymous Dana W. | 9:41 AM |  

    Another reader from Wisconsin here. In terms of reinforcing the law, obviously the police would have to be called to formally issue a complaint, which then can lead to a fine up to $200. As with anything, such as a theft, disorderly conduct, etc. the police (as the enforcers of laws and/or legislation) would need to be involved to issue a fine. Which I suppose would then lead to the police having to make a decision as to whether what occurred was harassment or just plain information giving. I think we have to give nursing mother's some credit that they would not just call the police when someone simple glanced at them while nursing, or someone was trying to be helpful. Although, I can see how the law can be abused, so hopefully the police can be relied upon to sort out those kind of issues. Do we have any info on how the laws are being enforced in other states?

  2. Anonymous Anonymous | 5:06 AM |  

    How can a law be enforced that a breastfeeding mother can stay in a PRIVATE location? If I don't want you nursing in my store, I'm kicking you out - PERIOD! I have a right to NOT have you in my place of business, same as everyone else! If a nursing mother has the right to nurse where she is otherwise authorized to be, then I have the right to revoke your authorization to be on my property.

  3. Blogger Jennifer | 6:24 AM |  

    A law can enforce anything it wants, unless someone takes it to court and challenges it's constitutionality.

    Of course you already don't have the right to refuse service to "anyone" you want. You can't kick a black woman out of your store because of the color of her skin. You can't ask a hispanic man to leave because you don't like him.

    It's called discrimination and there ARE laws against it.

    That said, I would welcome you to tell us the name and location of your store and we'll spread the word so that nursing moms know they shouldn't come to your store and give you business...

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