Monday, July 7, 2014

Better late than never! Michigan fights discrimination against breastfeeding mothers

By To-wen Tseng. Originally posted on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Blog.

Michigan had decided that our most precious and sweetest citizens should not be eating in a bathroom. Last Tuesday, Michigan governor Rick Snyder signed “Breastfeeding Anti-Discrimination Act” into law. Now Michigan mothers who nurse their children in public will be protected from discrimination and prosecution under the bipartisan legislation.

The “Breastfeeding Anti-Discrimination Act,” sponsored by the state Sen.Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), gives women the right to nurse a child in any place that is open to the general public, including stores, restaurants and municipal buses.

“We hope that with Gov. Snyder’s signature on this bill, we will start a culture change so that our mothers feel comfortable nursing their babies where they’re allowed to be.” Warren said that with this bill, mothers will be breastfeeding longer, “and the health benefits to both baby and mother will be maximized. ”

Under the new anti-discrimination law, owners and operators cannot deny goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to a woman simply because she is breastfeeding, nor post signs prohibiting public nursing.

A woman who is subject to discrimination because of breastfeeding can file a civil suit seeking injunctive relief, actual damages, or presumed damages of up to $200. A court could also award the mother full reimbursement for any legal costs.

Companion legislation sponsored by Rep. Amada Price (P-Park Lark), and Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto), will ensure that nursing mothers cannot be charged under state laws prohibiting indecent exposure or disorderly conduct.

Supporters say the new laws will guarantee the right of women to breastfeed in places of public accommodation and clear up any confusion for store owners, employees, and security guards.

Before the law, a Target Store in Harper Woods, MI, reportedly called the police on a breastfeeding mother in 2009. A SMART bus driver ordered an Eastpointe mother to cover up or exit in 2011. Security guards reportedly boarded the bus at the next stop and questioned her.

In this country, 45 states already have some form of law allowing women to breastfeed in public or private locations. Twenty-nine (29) states exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. Michigan did not have such a law until last week, and the state ranks in the bottom third of states for breastfeeding rates.

Health experts believe that normalizing breastfeeding will benefit babies in Michigan. The state’s chief medical executive for the Department of Community Health, Mr. Matthew Davis, said that breastfeeding provides optimal nourishment for children, shields them from infection and helps fight obesity. “A woman afraid of persecution or prosecution may decide not to breastfeed, thereby losing all the potential benefits of breastfeeding,” said Dr. Davis.

Dr. Paula Schreck of Michigan’s St. John Providence Health System said breastfeeding can also have a positive impact on the health of mothers by reducing the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and postpartum depression. “Breastfeeding improves the health of a society, of a city, of a country, of a state,” she said.

“There’s nothing more natural than giving birth and there’s nothing more natural than feeding your child using your body,” said Shannon Polk, executive director of the Michigan Breastfeeding Network, at a press conference in Lansing, MI.

“You wouldn’t eat your lunch in a bathroom. Why should our most precious and sweetest citizens have to eat in a bathroom?”

Here in California, mother’s right to breastfeed in public has long been protected. California is one of the first states that not only has a law that protects a mother’s right to breastfeed in public, but also an enforcement provision to uphold that law.

At Reading Terminal Market in Philly, everybody is eating. So am I :)

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