Monday, September 15, 2014

The fine print of the law

After a recent amendment to the law, I began researching the specific phrasing of my state's law regarding breastfeeding.  In the state of Missouri, it has read (since 1999) that "Mo. Rev. Stat. § 191.918 (1999) allows a mother, with as much discretion as possible, to breastfeed her child or express breast milk in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be."  Effective this summer (2014) it now reads "Mo. Rev. Stat. § 191.918 (1999, 2014) allows a mother, with discretion, to breastfeed her child or express breast milk in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be"

The part about "as much as possible" has been, thankfully, removed.  Who gets to determine that level of discretion?  Who decides how much discretion is the appropriate amount "possible"?  The mother does, and no one else.  So first off, I would like to say THANK YOU to the state of Missouri for giving that tiny amount of authority back to the only person who can make that decision.  The mother herself.  Because honestly, the definition of discretion is vague to say the least.

During my research of MO state law, I also began looking into the state laws of the rest of the US.  Purely out of curiosity, I was just browsing to see who (if anyone) had a really kick ass law to protect Mommy's rights.  What I found was less than thrilling.  While I did find some awesomeness, I also found a recurring theme within most state laws that I feel needs to be addressed.  It's the particular phrasing of 2 words that bothers me.

"her baby/child"

Almost every state that has a law protecting the rights of breastfeeding women use these two words/phrases.  The laws are worded that "a mother is allowed to breastfeed" as opposed to "a woman is allowed to breastfeed".  This bothers me because I know that there are many instances when a woman nursing a child may not be the child's mother.  (gasp!) Yes, yes, I know.  Wet nurses are archaic! (insert sarcastic text font here) Who's going to know the difference? Well, honestly, no one at the time.  But when push comes to shove and a WOMAN is wrongfully discriminated against for public BFing, the LAW will not be on her side.  When the wording of a law clearly opposes a situation, that is all they need to use it against you.  That one simple word "mother" could be the deciding factor for a woman in a court battle.  It's seems like such a small change, but it could make all the difference in the world one day.

The other phrase "her baby" or "her child" has two parts.  The first being directly related to the "mother" issue (not your baby? not legal!)  In fact, Iowa specifically states "Iowa Code § 135.30A (2002) a woman may breastfeed the woman's own child in any public place where the woman's presence is otherwise authorized."  HER OWN!  her own child?!? only her own child?  Who do you think you are Iowa, to tell a woman is she can or can not publicly BF a non-related child? 

But the other part of this is the courts legal decision to decide at what age a child is no longer protected to be comforted and nourished in public?  "Her baby" What is the cut off age for "baby"?  My 2 year old is still my baby.  My brother is 23 years old and my mom still considers him to be her baby.  Heck!  By definition, he IS a baby simply because he is "the youngest of a group" (the group being our family) Even worse is the fact that Maryland specifically states that "a woman to breastfeed her infant"  INFANT! only her infant, and once the child is past that point, no other legal protection will be given to that family.  So again, we are down the technical definition of a term.  Baby vs child.  I believe that all laws should either read "child" or simply leave that phrasing out of the law all together.

Now, I do want to share some of that awesomeness I was talking about earlier.  

I found 16 states that have very supportive and less restrictive phrasing in their laws.  Most of these say something along the line of:

"Ark. Stat. Ann. § 5-14-112  (2007) defines indecent exposure and specifies that a woman is not committing indecent exposure for breastfeeding a child in a public place or any place where other individuals are present. (2007 Ark. Acts, Act 680; HB 2411)"
"Kan. Stat. Ann. § 65-1,248 provides that it is the public policy of Kansas that a mother's choice to breastfeed should be supported and encouraged to the greatest extent possible and that a mother may breastfeed in any place she has a right to be."

The vagueness of Michigan's law is actually very helpful because it does not attempt to define the woman/child relationship or confine the child to an age bracket
" Mich. Comp. Laws § 41.181, § 67.1aa and § 117.4i et seq. (1994) state that public nudity laws do not apply to a woman breastfeeding a child."

But here is my favorite!  By far the best and most specific, protective wording out of all the 50 US state laws regarding public breastfeeding.  I give you MINNESOTA!
"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."
**I'll forgive them for the use of the word "mother" only because the inclusion of the nipple exposure is just so awesome =)

All of the state laws can be found here and I strongly recommend that everyone bookmark the page or print out a copy to keep on hand.  You never know when you're going to need to educate the ignorant public masses LOL