Missourians: Write Your Legislator in Support of the Amendment to Our Breastfeeding Statute
Missouri is the last state to admonish breastfeeding mothers to use “discretion” in the wording of our breastfeeding statute. But if the current proposed amendment passes, our statute will be more in line with other state statutes, and no one’s arbitrary definition of what is “discreet” will matter.
You can hear more about my thoughts on the breastfeeding statute in an interview I did with KSHB TV: Mo. senator seeks to protect breastfeeding moms.
Missouri’s current law says:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, a mother may, with as much discretion as possible, breast-feed her child in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 191.918 (1999)
The proposed amendment, Senate Bill No. 87, not only removes “with as much discretion as possible,” but it also adds in wording about pumping and it specifically removes breastfeeding or pumping from any kind of criminal offense. The bill also proposes amending a separate statute on jury duty, adding a section to allow breastfeeding mothers to be excused from jury duty. Here is the language of the proposed amendment as it is currently being debated:
191.918. 1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, a mother may breast-feed her child or express breast milk in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be. To restrict or limit the right of a mother to breast-feed her child is discriminatory.
2. The act of a mother breast-feeding a child or expressing breast milk in a public or private location where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be shall not:
(1) Constitute sexual conduct or sexual contact as defined in section 566.010; or
(2) Be considered an act of public indecency, indecent exposure, sexual conduct, lewd touching, or obscenity or any other similar term for purposes of state or municipal law.
3. A municipality shall not enact an ordinance prohibiting or restricting a mother from breast-feeding a child or expressing breast milk in a public or private location where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be.
494.430. 1. Upon timely application to the court, the following persons shall be excused from service as a petit or grand juror:
. . .
(2) Any nursing mother, upon her request, and with a completed written statement from her physician to the court certifying she is a nursing mother; . . .
While I like the direction the author of the bill is taking, I have a few more suggestions. Below, I have shared the letter I sent to my state senator and the sponsor of the bill (Senator Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph).
Please feel free to modify and use the letter, and email a copy to your own state senator (find out who your state senator is via the Missouri State Senate’s website). Even more effective, call and talk to your state legislators about the need to amend our current breastfeeding statute, and please mention the need for adding an enforcement provision. You can find out how to connect with any of your state legislators through USA.gov.
My Letter to Sen. Schaaf and My State Senator
Good morning Senator Schaaf,
I am writing to express my support of Senate Bill No. 87, currently being debated in the Missouri Senate to amend the breastfeeding statute. I’d like to share a few specific comments:
First, I fully support removing the phrase “with as much discretion as possible,” as being arbitrary and unnecessary. Who gets to decide whether a breastfeeding mother is being “discreet”? It leaves entirely too much open to interpretation and argument, nor does it inspire confidence in new breastfeeding mothers who may already be self-conscious.
Second, I also fully support adding in the language regarding pumping, thank you.
Third, in the jury duty section, I would like to see the language change from “physician” to “healthcare provider.” This way, a lactation consultant, chiropractor, midwife, or other qualified healthcare professional can write the note for a breastfeeding mother.
Fourth, I ask you to consider adding breastfeeding mothers to the individuals protected under the Missouri Human Rights Act. Mothers of infants who return to work face unique challenges to breastfeeding. Women report difficulties in finding time and safe spaces to pump breastmilk at work, and this can lead to unintentional weaning as the mothers’ supply inevitably decreases. Data shows that mothers who return to work are less likely to initiate breastfeeding or are more likely to stop breastfeeding earlier than mothers who do not return to work.
Adding breastfeeding mothers to the Missouri Human Rights Act will help guarantee that every mother will get the support she needs to pump. For more on the challenges faced by working, breastfeeding mothers, as well as why lactation programs are beneficial to both mothers and employers, see Executive Summary The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, The Business Case for Breastfeeding, Employment and Breastfeeding: Differences by Race or Socio-economic Status (and citations therein), Breastfeeding Support at the Workplace: Best Practices to Promote Health and Productivity, and Workplace Breastfeeding Support.
Finally, I encourage you to add an enforcement provision. Without an enforcement provision, the breastfeeding statute has no teeth. Nothing can happen to anyone who discriminates against a breastfeeding pair – either with our current statute or with the amendment currently being discussed.
There are several ways you can add an enforcement provision. Enforcement provisions enacted in other states include:
- levying a fine against the offender for each incidence of discrimination;
- giving the breastfeeding mother a private right of action (including the right to recover costs/attorney fees); and/or
- allowing a mother to seek an injunction.
You can read more about enforcement provisions at Lactation and the Law.
Adding an enforcement provision is a necessary step to help end discrimination against breastfeeding pairs. It creates opportunities for education in the community that breastfeeding is encouraged and recommended as the standard of infant nutrition. It also empowers mothers who are victims of breastfeeding-related harassment to take immediate action.
As cofounder of NursingFreedom.org and a volunteer on BestforBabes.org’s Legal Committee, and as a breastfeeding mother who has experienced harassment, I am happy to help you and your staff throughout the process of amending our breastfeeding statute. Please contact me at any time via email or phone.
If you would like to take action in your own state, check out Best for Babes’ guidelines for successful breastfeeding advocacy or the post I wrote for Best for Babes called It Starts with One Positive Voice: Progress with CA Courtroom Breastfeeding Issue.
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"Missourians: Write Your Legislator in Support of the Amendment to Our Breastfeeding Statute"
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