A bill before the Missouri General Assembly this legislative session would protect nursing mothers, forbidding restrictions on breast-feeding in public and excusing mothers with a doctor's note from serving on juries.
But one word in the bill is making nursing mothers nervous. The bill requires "discretion" from women breast-feeding in public places.
"That totally invalidates the law," says Erin O'Reilly with La Leche, a breast-feeding support group in St. Louis. "It's a vague term. It puts the burden on moms, which is what we wanted to get away from."
Missouri mothers started asking for more legal protections in October after a Jackson County judge held two women in contempt when they said they could not serve on a jury because they were still breast-feeding.
Laura Trickle of Lee's Summit asked to postpone her jury duty because she breast-feeds her son, who was seven months old. The court told her to find a babysitter or to use a breast pump during breaks, but Trickle says she has no other childcare options while her husband works during the day, and her son didn't take a bottle.
Mothers with babies protested the contempt of court charge, with the best/only diaper-themed rally cry we've ever heard: "The law stinks. Change it."
The judge is delaying the $500 fine to see if the Missouri legislature decides to allow nursing mothers a pass on jury duty.
Senator Rob Schaaf sponsored Senate Bill No. 502, which allows any nursing mother with a written statement from her physician to be excused from serving on a jury.
"What we need to do is encourage women in every possible way to breastfeed their kids," Schaaf, a doctor, told Daily RFT when he first filed a similar bill in February. "As a physician, I feel like we just need to not inhibit them."
O'Reilly bristles at the doctor's note requirement, which could mean additional doctor's visits for nursing mothers. Women in Kansas and eleven other states are exempt from jury service while breast-feeding.
The bill also protects women breast-feeding from being cited with sexual misconduct or public indecency laws while nursing a child or pumping breast milk in public places -- as long as they do it "with discretion." The bill also forbids cities from enacting new rules restricting breast-feeding.
"We don't want moms to feel they have to stay home," says O'Reilly. "We're the Show-Me State. Let's show the other states what we can do for breast-feeding moms."
Continue reading for the full draft of the bill.
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