The Jury Is out on Breastfeeding Accommodations

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June 13, 2019


Sascha Mayer, Mamava’s CEO and co-founder, weighs in on exempting breastfeeding moms from jury duty.

New York is on the verge of passing a new law that exempts breastfeeding moms from jury duty. If the law passes, New York will join the 19 other states (plus Puerto Rico) that give breastfeeding moms exemptions for jury duty upon their request.


Such laws acknowledge that breastfeeding moms are busy feeding babies—especially when that babe is a newborn—and that jury duty might be an overwhelming concept in an already stressful time. Of course, many moms breastfeed for a year or longer (following the recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics).  And these moms go back to work. They fly on airplanes. They attend public events. And they pump wherever they go so that they keep making milk to bring home.


So given the reality of life for many breastfeeding moms, exempting them from jury duty seems like a policy cop-out.  Because breastfeeding is not the problem. The problem is not having dedicated lactation spaces in public places. Like courthouses. Breastfeeding moms should have the option to exercise their civic duty if they choose to do so. Which means making sure they have access to private and sanitary lactation spaces in courthouses.


As attorney and mom Judith Miller writes, by not providing lactation spaces, courthouses are actually impeding a mother’s right to exercise her civic duty: “excluding nursing women from juries violates our rights as citizens.”  Exemption laws recognize that breastfeeding moms require accommodations, but instead of making sure accommodations are provided, such laws place the onus on the individual mom to either opt out or figure it out. On her own. (Miller was shown the men’s restroom!)


Imagine if public buildings didn’t provide wheelchair accessible ramps. And that instead of making the structural changes necessary to provide full access for all people, the law exempted people in wheelchairs from entering the building. (“Don’t worry! You don’t really need to go into that building.”) Exemption laws may be well-intended, but they miss the mark by not directly addressing the underlying structural problem.  


At the federal level, a new bipartisan bill —The Fairness For Breastfeeding Mothers Act—has been introduced that would mandate lactation spaces (other than bathrooms) for federal buildings. While this is certainly progress, courthouses at the state level aren’t included. Which means it’s up to individual states to provide accommodations for all of their citizens.


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