NH committee considers breastfeeding

by Tony on April 3, 2014

Supporters of a bill that would strengthen protections for women to breastfeed in New Hampshire hope a New Hampshire Senate Committee will recommend more study of the proposed bill this summer.

The Senate’s Health, Education and Human Services Committee heard about an hour of testimony Tuesday on House Bill 1571 – also referred to as “Devon’s Bill – Live Free and Breastfeed.”

The bill was written by New Hampshire State Rep. Ed Butler – Democrat of Harts Location – with Kate Frederick of Conway, who was fired from her job working as a counselor for the New Hampshire Dept. of Health and Human Services after a dispute with her supervisor about her right to breastfeed her child at work – and the options offered to her to do that.

Frederick was one of several women who testified before the committee in Concord Tuesday arguing women deserve greater protection under New Hampshire law to privately, safely and conveniently breastfeed their children while at work.

One testifier – who identified herself as a retired U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer – said she had not been provided appropriate accommodations while serving on active duty to breastfeed her children. Another woman who works as a restaurant server testified she should have been offered a private room but instead was asked to pump breast milk in a bathroom or out in her parked car during the winter.

Frederick testified that for her, breastfeeding was not only a matter of convenience, but also a health issue for her and her son Devon. She says what happened to her was “outrageous” as she was not offered a safe option to breastfeed.

The bill was stripped of language in the New Hampshire House that called for workplace protections for women who breastfeed and amended to essentially read now “Breastfeeding a child does not constitute an act of indecent exposure and to restrict or limit the right of a mother to breast-feed her child is discriminatory. An individual shall be allowed to feed her child by bottle or her breast in any place open to the public.”

Frederick – who says it’s a public health issue, not just a women’s health issue – and her supporters – want language inserted into the bill to clarify a woman’s right to reasonable accommodation to breastfeed while at work.

A representative for the Business Industry Assoc. testified at the hearing he had concerns about the wording of the current proposed legislation but was willing to meet to discuss them in an attempt to craft a more detailed bill. A question was also asked as to whether the legislation would put an undue burden on business owners and lead to them having to offer accommodations, such as allowing a worker to bring an ill relative to work. The committee is expected to make its recommendation Tuesday on the status of the bill and where it goes next.

The New Hampshire Dept. of Health and Human Services has not responded to requests for comment on Frederick’s appeal of her dismissal.