House bill clarifies legalities of breastfeeding in public
While Utah may have some of the highest rates of breastfeeding among new mothers in the country, the state’s laws have lagged behind others when it comes to clarifying some of the legalities surrounding breastfeeding in public on private property, according to Jennifer Morrill, who is the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program director of the Summit County Health Department.
Morrill said the state has some of the highest rates of mothers exclusively breastfeeding from birth, but the laws are not entirely clear about where it is allowed. A new bill, H.B. 196, would prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy in privately owned places of public accommodation and permit women to breastfeed in those places.
“I think this bill is necessary because breastfeeding is the natural way to feed your baby,” Morrill said. “We need to let the public know that it is normal and they shouldn’t be embarrassed and they do have that protection.”
The state already has measures in place for women who breastfeed at work or in public places, but it was not clear about the legalities surrounding breastfeeding on private property, such as grocery stores and churches.
“We have protected moms and have done good job at it,” said Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, the bill’s sponsor. “But, this bill takes us across the finish line. It allows a mom to breastfeed anywhere she is legally authorized to be, anywhere the public has access to, even if it is private property.”
Fawson said it is critical for women and the public to have “absolute clarity” when it comes to the practice. He said the measure encourages an open dialogue about the benefits of breastfeeding. He added, “We are not interested in shaming moms or discouraging breastfeeding in any way.”
“We need to further normalize and recognize this is a natural function of raising a child,” he said. “We do not want there to be any question about where they can or cannot breastfeed.”
The bill expands the definition of illegal discrimination against mothers to include discrimination against pregnant women and states it is a violation to discriminate in “business establishments, place of public accommodation or in enterprises regulated by the state.”
A similar measure was proposed in 2016, but failed to advance beyond the Senate Business and Labor Committee. Fawson blamed the bill’s failure on public perception and the language.
“I think it may have been combination of both,” he said. “I was in the House at the time, but we never saw it. I think this bill is authored a little differently and as more of a protection.”
Fawson said the bill has the support of the business community because it also is a safeguard for employers.
“When a mom is asked to legally leave an establishment, there is a lot of bad press and it is really just a nightmare,” he said. “I think employers support it because it gives them clarity and allows them to train their employees to know they can’t just ask a mom to leave or go to the restroom. When was the last time you ate a meal in a public restroom?”
Morrill said Summit County’s Health Department allows women to breastfeed in the lobby and especially in the WIC office. She said there is a designated room for women who need privacy, but they are encouraged to breastfeed whereever they need to.
“There are so many health benefits associated with it,” she said. “We want them to do it.”
The bill passed out of the House with a 66 to 5 vote. Representatives Tim Quinn and Logan Wilde supported the measure. It was introduced to the Senate Business and Labor Committee on Thursday.
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