Stacy Bordas Tells Why West Virginia Mothers Should Be Allowed to Feed Their Babies
Welcome moms! Bordas & Bordas is very proud of Stacy Bordas' popular article below -- many thousands of people have been kind enough to read it and comment on it over the past week and the breasfeeding bill is progressing in the Legislature. We wanted to mention, particularly for people interested in motherhood issues, other pieces we've published on how the time flies and paying tribute the incredibly challenging work moms do. One of our paralegals, Darcy Springer, wrote an article about being a grandmother and attorney Jay Stoneking wrote one for all the dads and grandads out there, too.
Welcome, enjoy and stop back again!
Recently, a great deal of attention has been given to breastfeeding laws, and as most mothers will tell you, rightly so. The spectrum of opinions reaches all the
way from whether or not you can be prosecuted for indecent exposure because of breastfeeding in public, to what rights you have to nurse your child in a public place, all the way to the passing of Child Rights Laws. What rights, if any, do West Virginia mothers have to publicly breastfeed their child? What laws are broken, if any, by publicly breastfeeding in WV?
I recall during my first semester of law school we were given the topic of whether or not breastfeeding in public should be deemed indecent exposure under WV Law. Our professor assigned us a side to write a brief about and then prepare an oral argument on. I remember hoping that I would get to argue the side saying that it was in fact, NOT indecent exposure, however, no such luck. At that time, I was not even a mother yet, but had hoped to nurse my children someday, and I couldn't imagine that doing so in public could be deemed a crime. Back then, in 2004, the topic was still largely debatable, and hence why it was such a good topic for a Legal Research and Writing Paper. The most interesting thing about the progression of WV Law is that since then, the statute has actually added a clause stating that breastfeeding in public is NOT indecent exposure (provided clause added to WV Code 61-8-9(a)
in 2007). This means that a woman can breastfeed her child in public and cannot be prosecuted under the indecent exposure statute. What was once a great topic for law students to debate is now an open and shut case...SORT OF.
Within the past ten years it is interesting to see how WV law has changed with the times. However, it may not have changed quite enough yet. Having nursed four children of my own now, I have personally experienced how much more "acceptable" public breastfeeding has become. With my oldest child, I would have never have dreamed of publicly breastfeeding her and had to take great efforts to express milk for her before leaving the house, so that if she got hungry she would be able to eat. As any nursing mother knows this is not an easy feat. Expressing milk takes time for one, and then there is the added difficulty of a time limit in which the milk must be consumed if not refrigerated. Less than two years later when my oldest son was born, there were nursing wraps available for sale online. To me, this was an indication of the trend toward the acceptability of public breastfeeding. These wraps were a great invention, however, at times, can be quite cumbersome to use and some children simply do not like feeding with them over their heads. By the time my fourth child was born, you could get those nursing wraps at virtually any store and just about every nursing mother had them. This was a huge step socially in the progression of public breastfeeding. But what exactly does this trend mean LEGALLY? What legal rights do WV mothers have to publicly breastfeed their child? The answer is none.
Recently, in Alabama a woman was breastfeeding her three month old in a courtroom while waiting on a proceeding and was asked to leave the courtroom and nurse in another area. The mother is contemplating seeking legal action
. In Texas, there was recently some controversy surrounding a mother who spent over $150 in a Victoria's Secret store, and then when she asked to use the store's empty dressing room to nurse her baby, she was denied access. Not only was she denied use of the dressing room, but it was suggested that she take her four month old outside the store and into the alley to feed him. The Austin mother of two was outraged and posted her disapproving comments
of Victoria's Secret all over social media. What do situations like these mean to us as West Virginia nursing mothers?
WV Code explains that public breastfeeding is not deemed indecent exposure, but what is a WV mom to do if a similar situation like the ones in Alabama and Texas happen to her? Does the mother have a right to stay and nurse her baby in the public place? The answer is no. In WV, if a woman is asked to leave a public place because she is breastfeeding and she does not, she can then be deemed a trespasser! Outraged? You have just been relieved of prosecution from indecent exposure but now you can be a trespasser? What are WV moms to do when they need to feed and nourish their baby? The answer lies in the adoption of Child Rights Laws.
WV has not fully adopted the public breastfeeding trend, and we are one of the few states that haven't. According to advance.wvu.edu, 45 states have adopted laws specifically allowing women to breastfeed in any public or private location. Alabama and Texas have adopted a Child's Right to Nurse Law) WV has not adopted a Child's Right to Nurse Law but has been contemplating it for years. Each year it gains more traction in the Legislature, but it has never passed both Houses. In 2011, the bill passed in the Senate but died in the House.
Because WV is one of the only states that does not provide for the protection of public breastfeeding in the code, The House of Delegates Health Committee has introduced a bill (H.B. 4335) legally establishing a woman's right to breastfeed in public. If passed, the bill will allow a mother to breastfeed in any location open to the public, provided the mother uses discretion. This means that a woman can breastfeed her baby in any public place that she and her baby are authorized to be (and can no longer be deemed a trespasser if she is asked to leave and refuses). Del. Barbara Fleischauer (D-Monongalia) is urging lawmakers to adopt this bill and stating the many health benefits of nursing. Fleischauer says, "The best food for the baby is breastfeeding." The bill has now been passed in the House of Delegates. It is now up to the Senate to determine whether this will become the law in West Virginia.
As a mother, this bill is particularly important, to both my rights and my child's rights. The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous and well documented. Is my baby any less hungry in a public place than a private one? Or is my child less deserving of nutrition because I chose to nurse her rather than bottle feed her? Is society now accepting of a woman's body when used to exploit or sell goods, but outraged when it is used as natural nourishment for her baby? I am happy to see that WV recognizes that breastfeeding is not Indecent Exposure and I would be happier to see WV pass a Child's Right to Nurse Law protecting nursing mothers for publicly breastfeeding their children. After all, our children are our future.