The Child's Right to Nurse Act
is a U.S. legislative
act which seeks to protect a child's right to be breastfed
in any location where the mother-child pair are otherwise authorized to be. It was first introduced in the West Virginia House of Delegates
by Bonnie Brown
). Delegates Long, Palumbo, Butcher, Ellem, Varner and Doyle co-sponsored the bill. Dr. Foster and several co-sponsors introduced the bill in the Senate on the same day. The title of the bill highlights that this is the first attempt to introduce breastfeeding legislation that focuses on the child rather than the mother.
Supporters of the bill, which passed 93-4 in the House but went without vote in the Senate, hoped that West Virginia would join other states in protecting breastfeeding mothers from discrimination. While breastfeeding in public is not illegal, mothers in such places as Charleston, Huntington, and Parkersburg have been harassed for doing so.
On Friday, July 29, 2005, Governor Joe Manchin stated that mothers shouldn't be harassed for breastfeeding. He made this statement during an event in the Governor's Reception Room where he issued a proclamation declaring the month of August as Breastfeeding Month in West Virginia.
The group striving for passage of the bill includes Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Jennifer Bryant, the mother harassed in Charleston, is a Democrat while Cassie Martin, the mother asked to stop breastfeeding in Huntington, is a Republican. This shows the issue is not a partisan one. Neither is it a religious issue. Catholics, Jews, Protestants/Evangelicals, and the non-religious are all working together to protect this most basic right of children and their mothers.
§16-1-19. Child's right to nurse: Location where permitted; right protected.
(a) Breast feeding is an important, basic act of nurturing that is protected in the interests of maternal and child health. A mother may breast feed a child in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be.
Reason for the legislation
Both residents of and visitors to West Virginia had been harassed for discreetly breastfeeding their babies in civic centers, pools, and restaurants. Hungry babies need to be fed on demand. They do not understand place or convenience, only their need for nourishment. Breastfeeding is not for public display, but occasionally it must be done in a public setting. Breastfeeding and breast milk
also provide significant health benefits to both the mother and child.
West Virginia presently ranks 49th for the incidence and duration of breastfeeding in the U.S., with mothers citing a lack of support, even active discouragement, as a primary reason for stopping. This denies children the tremendous health and nutritional benefits that only breastmilk provides. Protective legislation would afford more children these benefits.
Supporters of the bill
Numerous organizations endorsed the bill:
Opposition to the bill
House of Delegates
- Just three men and one woman voted against the bill.
- Delegate Patti Schoen (R-14th-Putnam) stated, "I just don’t think there’s a need for the law."
- Delegate Chris Wakim (R-3rd-Ohio) claimed that women in his constituency considered protecting breastfeeding rights "a waste of paper."
- Fellow House Republicans overwhelming disagreed, voting for passage.
- The bill passed 93-4.
- Senator Prezioso (D-13th-Marion), Chairman of the Health and Human Resources Committee, held up the legislation until the last hearing of the general session. He also introduced an amendment limiting breastfeeding rights:
- 12 month age limit
- Committee members voted down this part of the amendment.
- List of exempted places
- This amendment made it to the Senate floor.
- The bill died on the final day of the session as it had not been read on three consecutive days as required by the West Virginia Constitution.
- The Senate could have voted for the suspension of the reading rule, but a senator objected.
Opponents objected to the legislation for varying reasons:
- Some legislators erroneously believed that without exempting schools, teen mothers would nurse their babies in the classroom.
- Proponents of the Child's Right to Nurse cite the original bill text as already addressing that issue – this law would only apply where the mother-child pair are otherwise authorized to be.
- West Virginia high schools do not allow mothers to bring their children with them into the classroom.
- Several legislators, both male and female, stated that the law was entirely unnecessary as nursing in public is not illegal.
- Proponents of the bill note that while nursing is legal throughout all of the United States, 35 states found it necessary to enact legislation to protect breastfeeding mothers from harassment and discrimination.
- A couple of male senators believed that nursing mothers would be indiscreet and sought to require a blanket or other covering.
- No other state or federal breastfeeding rights law contains this provision.
- Mothers argue that this would be discriminatory and could possibly result in their prosecution when their babies pulled the covering off.
- Several male senators and at least one delegate supported an age limit of as little as 12 months with one fearing that mothers would breastfeed their teenagers.
- These gentlemen are unable to offer up any examples to support their position.
- Proponents point out that laws in others states contain no such provision
- This amendment indicates a distrust of women.
- The author of the age limit amendment acknowledged he chose the age arbitrarily.
- Medical professionals and health organizations such as the WHO support breastfeeding for 24 months or even longer.
- The state should not intrude in this area, but rather trust mothers to do the right thing.