Mothers lobby to change breastfeeding law they call outdated
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Several mothers with children in their arms joined women’s groups Monday at the Statehouse in lobbying for the removal of what they describe as outdated language in North Dakota’s breastfeeding law.
Women may breastfeed in public in the state if they do so “in a discreet and modest manner.” A bipartisan bill is aimed at removing that language and also would make it illegal and punishable by up to a $1,000 fine to prohibit a mother from breastfeeding.
North Dakota’s Republican-led House is expected to vote on the measure Tuesday. The measure got a “do not pass” recommendation by the chamber’s judiciary committee last week.
Republican Rep. Karen Karls of Bismarck was the only woman of four on the 14-member committee who voted against the proposal. No male lawmaker on the committee voted for it.
Karls told The Associated Press that she breastfed her four children but felt the law in place was sufficient. “I like the discreet and modest part,” she said.
Karls will carry the bill on the House floor, where it will be debated by her colleagues. Only 30 of the Legislature’s 141 members are women.
Lawmakers passed legislation in 2009 that exempted breastfeeding from the state’s indecent exposure laws, as long as “the woman acts in a discreet and modest manner.” The legislation was aimed at protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed her child in any public or private location.
But Fargo Democratic Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, the primary sponsor of the bill, said the current law is “antiquated” and the definitions of “discreet and modest” are subjective.
The legislation comes after an incident last year at a Fargo restaurant. A woman was told to leave because she was breastfeeding her baby without a cover. The restaurant’s manager and its owner later apologized.
Dobervich said the incident only partially spurred the measure.