Breastfeeding Laws Are Confusing And Ineffective — Here’s Why They Need To Change
2:45 pm, June 9th | by Amy Tennery
This week a Minnesota mom was thrown out of a public library for breastfeeding her child, which an on-duty security guard referred to as “indecent exposure,” according to news reports. Of course, breastfeeding in public does not constitute indecent exposure in Minnesota — a fact that had eluded the guard.
Sadly, this story isn’t unique. Again and again, women are humiliated and degraded because, apparently, a staggering number of people have no clue what the public breastfeeding laws are in the U.S. And in the absence of real knowledge, the “ewww, cooties!” interpretation of the law appears to win out among the ignoramuses of society.
So what are the public breastfeeding regulations in the U.S.? Let’s be clear — I’m no expert. But there’s public information out there that’s (marginally) cut and dry:
– On the surface of things, it’s not technically illegal to breastfeed in public. In any state.
– Yes, of course, there’s a catch. Many states that allow breastfeeding in public have only recently adopted these mandates, leading to confusion. And, according to the National Coalition of State Legislatures (as of 2011), not all 50 states have laws that “specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location.” Forty-seven are on board, but the remaining three allow for a kind of gray area.
– More catches! Some states that do exempt public breastfeeding from indecent exposure laws provide certain stipulations that could leave women vulnerable. North Dakota, for instance, passed a bill in 2009 “to exempt the act of a woman discreetly breastfeeding her child from indecent exposure laws.” “Discreetly?” If we can’t wrap our heads around the basics, how exactly can one determine what’s “discreet?” How is someone supposed to know when she’s being indiscreet… while breastfeeding?
– Further to that end, there are some states that specifically allow breastfeeding in public — but don’t protect women against public indecency charges. Consider the mom in Georgia who was arrested on such charges, even though her state doesn’t technically bar this activity. Confused yet?
– Things are equally complicated around the office. The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide safe, private areas for women to pump breast milk. Unless, of course, your company has fewer than 50 employees, at which point employers can invoke a hardship exemption and provide no such accommodations. Tough luck, ladies.
Does it make sense to anyone that a set of laws that affects thousands of women every year would be so confusing? No! And while I’m sure states rights advocates would balk at an across-the-board federal mandate, some kind of nationwide guideline (beyond those that allow for breastfeeding on federal property) could do wonders.