It might be hard to believe, but up until recently, it wasn’t actually legal to breastfeed in public in every state in America. (Yes, seriously.) That finally changed last month, when Idaho and Utah officially became the last U.S. states to enforce laws protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed anywhere she is legally allowed to be.
The legislation for Idaho’s law was first introduced back in February by Republican Rep. Paul Amador, the proud dad of a 5-month-old, where it passed the house unanimously with a 66-0 vote. But it wasn’t until June that it actually took affect.
Amador had these wise words to say about the bill, as he introduced it to his fellow reps:
“Personally, I find it disappointing that we’re in 2018 and we still haven’t passed this law in Idaho,” Amador said, as reported in the The Idaho Statesman. “I think we can take a proactive stance here through legislation to promote the natural bond and health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child. I also believe the health and nutritional choices of our families are best left as decisions for our families, not our government.”
BINGO. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
While the new law doesn’t state explicitly that women have the legal right to breastfeed in public, what it does do is exempt breastfeeding from obscenity and indecent exposure laws, which is an important legal right that had been absent from Idaho law before this.
Utah clarified some aspects of their own laws in February as well, reaffirming the rights of mothers to breastfeed freely in public throughout the state. The bill, introduced by Rep. Justin Fawson (R), was passed by the House Business and Labor Committee with a vote of 6-5.
“I don’t feel like we should ever relegate a mom to a restroom to breastfeed their child,” Fawson told KUER, a local radio station. “That’s a big reason why I’m running the bill. I’m seeking to further normalize breast feeding and allow moms to feed their babies as needed.”
However, the move was not met without some resistance. Rep. R. Curt Webb (R), who was also on the committee, felt strongly that there should be a provision in the law requiring mothers to have some degree of modesty when they nurse in public.
“[T]his seems to say, you don’t have to cover up at all,” he told the radio station. “[I’m] not comfortable with that at all, I’m just not. It’s really in your face.”
Um, what? If you ask me, Webb’s stance seems to miss the point — it’s not about his comfort; it’s about a mother’s right to feed her baby whenever her baby is hungry. Not all babies will even nurse under a cover, especially in hot weather or when they are fussy.
But I’m not the only one who was miffed by his words: A band of moms reportedly showed up to the hearing and had plenty of comebacks for Webb’s comments.
“I don’t think that you should be asked to go feed in a public restroom,” said Elise Jones, mom to a 9-month old baby. “Most public restrooms that I’ve been in are nowhere where I’d want to eat or where I’d want to feed my baby.”
The best response of all probably came from Marina Gomberg, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, who said, “Some might say that it’s not in your face, Mr. Webb, it’s in the baby’s face.”
YOU TELL IT, SISTER!
In the end, the Utah bill was in fact only passed after a portion was removed that said women didn’t need to cover up to breastfeed in public. However, the law did pass — and that’s what matters. Regardless of how long it took us to get here, it’s pretty incredible to know that a mom can go to any state in America now and breastfeed without fear of breaking a law or being fined for indecent exposure.
One can only hope that more positive, pro-family legislation like this continues to move forward. And so far, it looks like it is. As The Christian Science Monitor reports, New Jersey recently passed laws to protect the civil rights of working mothers, and also became the third state removing taxes on breastfeeding-related products like breast pumps. In addition, New York will begin requiring all state buildings open to the public to have breastfeeding rooms, starting next year. Woohoo!
It goes without saying that even with these changes, we still have a long way to go in terms of fully supporting breastfeeding in this country. After all, it’s one thing to have laws on the books saying that women have the right to breastfeed in public, and it’s quite another for everyone to feel comfortable with that. As we know, even in states where it’s legal, women are frequently harassed and told incorrectly that they can’t breastfeed legally at places like the pool, a restaurant, or even the grocery store (which are all legal!).
Even so, these new developments are definitely steps in the right direction, and ones we should all celebrate.