Seattle’s city council passed a bill yesterday that will make nursing in public a civil right, making it illegal for businesses, vendors and public officials to ask a woman to cover up, desist or move while nursing her child.
Nursing in public is already considered a civil right in the state of Washington; it has been since 2009. This means that it is illegal to discriminate against women anywhere in the state simply because they are nursing in public. The law applies to all places that are open to the public, including doctor’s offices, libraries and stores.
Yet, despite the state’s law, the Seattle Women’s Commission says that dozens of women in the city are still being asked to cover up, stop nursing, move or leave in theaters, restaurants, libraries, doctor’s offices and daycare centers. The commission lobbied for the bill, hoping it will empower women that choose to nurse their babies in public.
“For those who have been discriminated against, it’s embarrassing,” said Abigail Echo-Hawk with the Seattle Women’s Commission. “It can embarrass a woman so much that she may choose to stop breastfeeding.”
Such examples of embarrassment can be seen when looking at one complaint, filed with the state Human Rights Commission, in which a woman was asked to move while nursing her baby in her physical therapist’s lobby area. She was so embarrassed by the situation that she left the office and missed her appointment. The business did agree to purchase a $5,000 U.S. Savings Bond in the child’s name, but the monetary compensation cannot remove the embarrassment the mother felt that day.
It is this embarrassment that the city council hopes to eliminate. By making the laws easier to enforce, businesses, vendors and public officials might be less apt to ask a woman to move or cover up while she is nursing. They feel that providing the protection to nursing mothers is more than just an issue of personal comfort; it is a public health issue and so it should be treated as such.
“The bottom line is, it’s a health issue for our community,” said Councilman Bruce Harrell, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s very clear the benefits of breastfeeding. What we want to do is more the needle in terms of community acceptance of breastfeeding by having our local civil office of rights enforcing the law.”
Some women, like Seattle mom Alice Enevoldsen, feel that it is silly that a law is needed for something as trivial as whether or not a mother can feed her baby.
“I don’t think everybody wants to breastfeed in public, but I think we should all have the ability to do what is best for our babies when it’s best for our babies,” said Enevoldsen. “Babies don’t have a lot of control over when they’re hungry. We need to feed them when they’re hungry. Sometimes that means you’re out in a public place. Just get out of my business. I’m going to feed my baby.”
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