A new rule in Doylestown puts local business owners on notice that women are free to breastfeed in any public space. Supporters say the ordinance will bolster existing Pennsylvania law.
Jenkintown attorney Jake Marcus said the state law is “flimsy” and only gives women permission to nurse in public spaces. “Which is actually not something they need,” she said. “What they need is protection from harassment when they breastfeed in public.”
The Doylestown borough ordinance bans restaurants, or any public accommodation, from asking breastfeeding women to cover up or move to a more discreet location, Marcus said.
Eliza Magland leads the La Leche League of Central Montgomery County. She said an ordinance won’t be the right approach for every community, still she favors anything that continues the community conversation that breastfeeding is “normal and healthy” for babies.
“If a woman came to one of our meetings and said, ‘Oh, this waiter was rude to me, or this shop owner made me go into the dressing room to nurse,’ we’d say: ‘I’m so sorry you had that experience.’ But we wouldn’t say, ‘Let’s take down their name and do something about it,'” Magland explained.
Shop owners face no fine or citation—under the new local rule–but moms can now file a complaint with the borough’s human relations committee.
“You certainly don’t want to be known as a shop that’s not family friendly,” Magland said.
Councilwoman Joan Doyle said the borough’s anti-discrimination rules are the wrong vehicle for breastfeeding education. The human relations committee was originally established to assist lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
“We’re very progressive and forward thinking,” Doyle said. “That was specifically and largely because the LGBT community is not a protected class in the state of Pennsylvania as it is in some other states. I’m not opposing breastfeeding, I’m a big supporter of young mothers nursing,” Doyle said.
She said the state law prevents police from citing breastfeeding women for indecent exposure.
“The problem is that the public doesn’t know about this, and the business owners don’t know about this,” Doyle added.
A local retailer asked Doyle and the other borough leaders for better community education, not a new rule, “To allow them to go face to face to their own business community and explain what women are allowed to do,” Doyle said.
The councilwoman said she worries the new ordinance will give mothers a false sense of security, because –she said –the rule only applies to business owners and you can’t legislate against nasty looks, intrusive or offensive comments from customers.