Breastfeeding bill draws pushback but clears committee on 6-5 vote

Friday , February 09, 2018 - 5:32 PM6 comments

SALT LAKE CITY — After surprising opposition and a failed attempt to add language regarding modesty, a bill to further normalize breastfeeding in public barely squeaked out of a male-dominated legislative committee Thursday on a 6-5 vote. 

Rep. Justin Fawson, a North Ogden Republican, is spearheading House Bill 196 to permit women to breastfeed in any place of public accommodation — whether they cover up or not.

According to Fawson, Utah law since the mid-1990s has stipulated that breastfeeding doesn’t violate any indecency laws. But his measure would provide the added protection that moms can breastfeed anywhere they’re allowed to be without the fear of being asked to move or to leave. 

“My hope is we can normalize breastfeeding again, and moms don’t need to fear if they’ll be embarrassed if they go somewhere and have to feed their child,” Fawson said Thursday. 

In a Facebook post Thursday, Ogden area resident Carin Carter shared her recent experience dining at Kneaders with her husband and three children: 

“Baby decided it was dinner time too, even though I fed him right before I left to try and avoid a ‘situation.’ Two men walk in, order, and sit down. They looked to be father and son, 20-something and 40-something. The younger of the pair kept looking over at me, whispering, the older one looks at me, gives me a disgusted look. They both keep glancing at me. It made me really uncomfortable. Me, being the fiery redhead that I am, pointed it out it my husband. We started whispering back and forth and staring at the men. I ended up just staring at them for the remainder of the feeding. Turns out, they don't like being stared down either! As soon as their food arrived, they asked for to-go boxes and left, all while shooting me dirty looks. It was uncomfortable and awkward, but shame on them!”

Women were divided on the issue Thursday as they spoke both for and against the bill to members of the House Business and Labor Committee.

Elaine Augustine told the committee she’d been married for 22 years and is raising nine children.

“I’ve been breastfeeding on and off for the last couple of decades, and I have never run into problems,” Augustine said, voicing concerns that Fawson’s bill infringed on the rights of business owners. “I have no problem if they come and ask me to move somewhere else while breastfeeding. If we narrowed the scope to women breastfeeding in restrooms, I’d be OK with that.”

Stephanie Pitcher, an attorney in Davis County, felt differently, citing recent well-publicized incidents in Utah.

RELATED: Nordstrom Rack kicks breast-feeding Centerville mom out of bathroom

“We’re seeing this does happen,” Pitcher said, referring to moms being asked to move, cover up or leave establishments as they try to breastfeed their children. Most businesses apologized after the fact, Pitcher added, pledging to better train their employees.

But Utah and Idaho are the only two remaining states that do not fully protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public.

Jacque de Gaston from Provo told lawmakers that she breastfed all 10 of her children. Still, she struggled with the last part of the bill: “A woman may breastfeed in any place of accommodation, as defined in Section 13-7-2, irrespective of whether the woman’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.”

“They should be asked to try to be modest about it. It’s very easy to do it that way,” de Gaston said. “I don’t want this to give license to exposés of nudity.”

But Elise Jones, an attorney and first-time mom of a 9-month-old infant, said that people tend to disagree on what qualifies as discreet.

“One of the most important things for my sanity is to be able to get outside the house and interact with others. I bring my baby with me everywhere and have nursed multiple times in public. I haven’t run into problems, but am always a little bit on guard — you feel a little bit vulnerable,” Jones said, adding that most public restrooms are “nowhere I’d want to eat and nowhere I’d want to feed my baby.”

Lawmakers serving on that committee were also divided on the issue. The lone woman, Rep. Susan Duckworth (D-Magna), joked about her conflict of interest, having nursed four children.

“I do support the bill and the act of breastfeeding. It’s healthy for children and the mother as well,” Duckworth said.

But Rep. Curt Webb, a Cache County Republican, shared de Gaston’s concerns.

“We’ve all become accustomed to mothers who breastfeed in public. It’s acceptable all the way around,” Webb said. “But it appears there is no standard of modesty at all built into this bill. This seems to say you don’t have to cover up at all. I’m not comfortable with that ... it’s really in your face.”

Rep. Mike Schultz, a Republican from Hooper, offered to amend the bill to get more specific about modesty. But Fawson opposed that idea, noting the language de Gaston found offensive had been part of Utah law since 1995.

“To do so would walk back a law that has been in place for 23 years,” Fawson said, adding that during that time, “we haven’t heard of widespread pornographic feeding frenzies if you will. I would oppose that change and wouldn’t be able to support it.”

Those voting in favor of HB 196 included: Rep. Duckworth, Rep. James Dunnigan (R-Taylorsville), Rep. Gage Froerer (R-Huntsville), Rep. Tim Hawkes (R-Centerville), Rep. Mark Wheatley (D-Murray) and Rep. Brad Wilson (R-Layton).

Lawmakers opposing HB 196 included: Rep. Mike McKell (R-Spanish Fork), Jeremy Peterson (R-Ogden), Marc Roberts (R-Santaquin), Mike Schultz (R-Hooper) and Rep. Webb from Providence.

The measure now advances to the full House for further consideration.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or Follow her on Twitter at @catmck

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