Friday, February 20, 2009

I am frustrated right now

Currently, the North Dakota House and Senate are considering a bill on breastfeeding. If it passes both and becomes law, ND will be the 2nd to last state to have such a law on the books. West Viriginia is our only company so far. So I should be happy that ND is finally getting with it, right? Well, I was until the Senate started messing with the language of the bill, AGAIN! And, now the bill has passed, so its up to the House to fix it again and send it back. Ugh, what a process.

When it was first introduced, it was a great bill. It would let women breastfeed in public without breaking indecency laws and make it discriminatory to bar breastfeeding women from businesses. It also included incentives for employers to create breastfeeding friendly policies. However, now it reads like this:

"If the woman acts in a discreet and modest manner, a woman may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the woman and child are otherwise authorized to be."

The bolding is mine for emphasis. Here's the problem with adding the "discreet and modest" wording: This gives the interpretation of whether the mother is being "discrete" over to anyone but the mom trying to feed her child. It is vague and subjective and basically gives anyone legal standing to kick a nursing mother out of a public place (the exact thing the bill was trying to prevent, in part) by saying that the mom was not being discreet.

Also, they took out all the wording giving incentives to businesses to allow women employees breaks to pump or breastfeed the children. So, it is a much weaker, less helpful bill as it is right now.

I live just across the border, so I decided to email all the legislators in this area along with those that serve my home town. I actually received a reply email from one of the my hometown legislators very quickly which was very nice. I wish I had gotten ahold of him before the bill passed, though. So, here is the letter I sent the legistlators:

"Dear Representative _____________,

Hello. My name is Lesley ********* ****** and I am originally
from *****, ND. My parents are ******* and ******** of ********. I
am a UND graduate, and I currently reside in *******, MN.

When my husband and I moved back to the ND/MN area last fall, I was excited to be closer to home. However, I was discouraged when I looked up the breastfeeding laws in ND and found that there weren't any on the books. For the past 9 years I have lived in Kansas and Missouri while attending graduate school in clinical psychology at the University of Kansas. My son, Nicholas, was born 2 years ago, and the breastfeeding laws in those states made me feel secure that I could not legally be discriminated against for breastfeeding him in public. I did, unfortunately, receive some disapproving stares and snide comments from time to time, but knowing that I could not be kicked out of a restaurant or another public place because of my breastfeeding made me feel more secure in meeting his need to be fed as it arose.

I was excited when I heard that new legislation on breastfeeding was being
proposed in ND recently. However, I was very surprised to find that the breastfeeding bill has now been changed to state that only if the mother is DISCREET is it acceptable for her to breastfeed in any location that the mother and child are allowed to be. Adding this word angers and scares me to nurse in our state more than not having a law. Every mom I know attempts to always be discreet, but there are still times when the act of nursing may violate someone's view of discretion. Honestly, some people are so put off by and disapproving of breastfeeding that they would still find fault with a mother breastfeeding in their presence. By adding the word, "discrete" lawmakers will have opened the door for people to use this law against women breastfeeding in public.

Who would decide whether it is discreet? Only if they are covered up with a blanket? Only if the baby doesn't squirm or unlatch? Only if there is no one nearby? My son never wanted to be covered with a blanket while nursing, went through stages when he was distracted by every noise around him, and always wanted to nurse for comfort when he was stressed by new situations or overwhelming places (which often would include new public places). Would my attempts at providing the "gold standard" and God-intended food for my son be seen by some as obscene? Yes, even though I did everything in my power to be discreet, there have been some in my midst that were offended. This leaves it up to the employer, restaurant patron, church member, etc. to say "I was offended so she must stop feeding her child". The fear of not only that disapproval, but the embarrassment of being kicked out of a public place, or God forbid, being charged with public indecency or lewdness, is unfortunately reinforced by the introduction of the word "discreet" into the legislation. With that word in place, the legislation becomes too vague and subjective and so becomes moot and worthless, maybe even harmful. The law was supposed to support and encourage breastfeeding in our state, not give naysayers legal reason to ban breastfeeding.

I am asking you to please take out the word "DISCREET" or do not
pass this law.

Thank you for your time and consideration."

I borrowed some of the wording from a friend's letter (with permission) but much of it is my own and it is all true.

I wish ND would have the wisdom and guts to pass decent breastfeeding laws like Minnesota has. Here's how their's read:

Minn. Stat. Ann. § 145.894 directs the state commissioner of health to develop and implement a public education program promoting the provisions of the Maternal and Child Nutrition Act. The education programs must include a campaign to promote breastfeeding.

Minn. Stat. § 145.905 provides that a mother may breastfeed in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother's breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.

Minn. Stat. § 181.939 (1998) requires employers to provide daily unpaid break time for a mother to express breast milk for her infant child. Employers are also required to make a reasonable effort to provide a private location, other than a toilet stall, in close proximity to the workplace for this activity. (SB 2751)

Minn. Stat. Ann. § 617.23 specifies that breastfeeding does not constitute indecent exposure.

So, let's see public education program, protection to mothers breastfeeding in public, exemption from indecency laws, and employer support provisions. Nice. Some states, like Kansas (where I formerly resided), also exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty.

So right now I am hoping and praying that our representatives will hear the voices of many of their citizens and will do the right thing. I'm saying my prayers...

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