Saturday, May 9, 2015

Police Called on Two Texas Breastfeeding Mothers; YOU Are Needed to Demand Action from Legislature

I'm not a journalist, and I'm verbose. I've buried the lead below, but this is what you need to know: TWO Texas mothers have had the police called on them for breastfeeding in the past two months.  The Texas legislature can stop this, but YOU are needed to contact them and demand that they push through HB 232.  It's not hard, and it is vital.  Learn how at

More than two and a half years ago, I was nursing my two-month-old baby, my breast completely covered, in an empty room, when I was told that I needed to move to a private room.

That day changed my life.

Thankfully, I was an experienced and confident parent, and I (thought I) knew my rights.  My life and the life of my son could have changed in a profoundly negative way.  I could have quit breastfeeding to avoid the possibility of future confrontations, denying both of us decreased health risks.

Knowing this could happen to other mothers, I was motivated to ensure that a written policy in accordance with the law was adopted where I had been discriminated against.

An initial approach of diplomacy and education, going through proper channels for several weeks, yielded the opposite - a written regulation to isolate breastfeeding mothers - and that, with the input of a lawyer.

Eventually I realized that Texas' Right to Breastfeed law does not truly protect mothers, because it does not specify that it is illegal to violate our legal right.

And I realized that I would need help to make a change.

My brother-in-law advised me to consider the worst possible ramifications of going public before deciding to do it.  That advice seeped into my brain and one day I found myself imagining, "What's the worst possible thing that could happen if I have to feed my child there again?"  

What if I'm told to leave, and I again politely refuse?  Would I be trespassing? (Yes.)  Would they call the police on me?

If I were arrested, I didn't know if I could leave my baby there with someone I trusted while my husband was called, or if my infant would be whisked off to strangers.  And worse, strangers who could not feed him two hours later, because he would not take a bottle.

I was terrified at the thought.  I ugly cried for a long while.

When I considered sharing this weeks and weeks later as testimony against the discriminatory regulation, I couldn't get through practicing the speech without tears, and I decided to take a different tact.

I still get a little emotional thinking about it.  That almost three-month-old is now almost three years old, and I still tear up at the memory of that imagined vulnerability.

But the vulnerability is not imaginary.

I convinced myself that this was a silly fear, something embarrassing to share, even.

And yet twice in the past two months, police have been called on Texas mothers for breastfeeding.  

We have a legal right to feed our babies, and yet the police officers treated the mothers involved not as victims of discrimination but as... persons of interest?  Thankfully neither mother was arrested, but one was made to leave a place of public accommodation and the other was made to feel as though the officers were looking for a reason to arrest her.

For feeding their babies.

Ruth Ann's Story

Last week Ruth Ann Jenkins was trying to console her sobbing three-month-old son at a restaurant in Abilene, pacing by her table in the back corner and nursing him, when an abrasive woman approached her and asked her to cover up, to move further away, to turn her back from other patrons.  None of these "solutions" were workable for Ruth Ann.  And why should they be, when the true problem was that her exhausted infant, who rarely cries, had her worried and needed her to soothe him with movement and milk?

No one should have thought that their own "problem" of being uncomfortable with a functioning breast should mandate how Ruth Ann cared for her son.  No one should have felt it necessary that, while already finding it difficult to latch him, she should upset her son further by trying to latch with a blanket in the way.  No one should have thought it necessary that she try to put him asleep a few feet further toward the back of the restaurant where there was direct sun flooding through the windows.  No one should have thought it necessary that she try to pace, a motion any mother knows is vital to calming a baby, while somehow keeping her back to the rest of the restaurant.

But until our society ceases to prioritize the sexualization of breasts over the reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, asthma, etcetera, people will think that their uncomfortable cognitive dissonance outweighs the need of an infant for life-giving milk.

And so, ten minutes later, when Ruth Ann and her husband had finished dinner and left the restaurant, they were greeted by the owners and police officers.

The owners proceeded to lecture Ruth Ann, followed by a similar lecture from the police.  She said they accused her of intentionally trying to bother other patrons.  By feeding her hungry baby.

The police asked her to step away from her husband and baby.  I'm sure you can imagine how terrifying that must have been.  I can picture it in my head.  A familiar scene from TV and movies.  The bad guy being asked to step over here.

Only the "bad guy" in this scenario is a new mommy.  "Odd-looking" by her own description, with a mohawk and tattoos, but come on!

Scared, Ruth Ann insisted on remaining next to her husband as the police officers took her drivers license and looked her up.  She felt like they were looking for a reason to arrest her.  She was terrified, brought to tears at the thought of being separated from her infant son.  She was thankful that she keeps up with things like her license and registration and car inspection, that there was nothing for which she could be taken from him.

Later, she left a one-star review for the restaurant.  This lead to learning that it was not the business owners who called the police (rather, apparently it was a patron, allegedly a Justice of the Peace!).  But at the time they allowed it to seem that they had called them, confronting her as they did with the police officers.  And though they claim to be pro-breastfeeding, the abrasive woman who approached Ruth Ann was one of the owners.  I would hardly call their behavior supportive.

Despite a law intended to protect mothers, the restaurant discriminated in a way they would never have done to someone based on religion or race or disability without legal ramifications.  Imagine someone with a feeding disorder, perhaps messy and noisy and needing assistance to be fed by a companion.  No one would ask that person to turn his back, or move to a different part of the restaurant.  Certainly no police called in those situations would be scanning the driver license of the party who had faced discrimination!

Morgan's Story

An hour away, two months earlier, Morgan Riley was nursing her baby girl at a roller rink in Early, Texas, while her son enjoyed a birthday party there.  Morgan faxed me a copy of the police report.

The owners called the police on her for breastfeeding.  They wanted her to cover up (as though feeding her baby was lewd), or move to a private room (where she could not supervise her six-year-old).

When she declined to put a blanket over her baby's head or leave the vicinity of her son, the police officer told her she would have to leave.  Fearing that defending her right could get her arrested, she left.

Why YOU Are Needed

I make a point of not sharing all of the NIP incidents I read about online.  I do not want to over-represent them.  I breastfed for years without incident.  The majority of women will certainly never have the police called on them.

But I share this, and I regularly talk about the lack of teeth in our law, because when a mother is confronted for breastfeeding, the impact of that is monumental for her.  One mother alone being shamed and risking her breastfeeding relationship is too many.

But it's not just one mother.  The list I've compiled with other advocates is of 100 Texas mothers in the past few years.

A large  percentage of these are moms local to me, so I know this list is far from exhaustive.

And a larger percentage of these moms were covered while breastfeeding, so THAT is not the issue.  Breastfeeding is.

The impact of each of those stories reaches far beyond those 100 moms and their babies and their future babies.  The women who hear the stories are affected, as well.  So almost half of moms cite a fear of nursing in public as their greatest concern about breastfeeding.

Next week Texas Representatives will decide if mothers can have true protection of their Right to Breastfeed.  

Versions of HB 232 have been filed for a decade.

  • HB 232 would inform businesses of the law through an e-newsletter from the Comptroller.  That won't cost the state anything.

  • It will make it illegal to interfere with or restrict breastfeeding.

  • And it will give mothers recourse if they face discrimination.

In early sessions the penalty for discrimination would have been a fine, but that requires a budget, and the legislature would not pass that.  Two years ago the enforcement provision was changed to a cause of action, but by the time the bill was put on the voting calendar, we'd run out of time to pass it.

With HB 232, a mother facing discrimination could request an injunction (a court telling the business to quit discriminating) or could sue a business for a max of $500.  Mothers aren't likely to have time or money to hire a lawyer for a greater sum than the potential payout, but the possibility of a lawsuit sends a message to businesses that this law is not one which it is optional to follow.  And to law enforcement officers, too, for that matter.

Texas Law Review was involved in creating the language for the bill and no organizations or individuals registered opposition at the public hearing in March.

If the Texas House passes the bill next week, it would still need to get through the Senate.  That means that we'd need at least one Senate sponsor who could get a committee to take the time to hear the bill.  That committee would need to pass it and the Senate would need to vote, I think by May 27th.

That's a tall order.  Legislators have bills they are focused on, and we're having a lot of trouble just getting a bill that already passed the House to get a Senate committee hearing.

But if legislators can recognize the frequency of discrimination, and the abhorrently egregious nature of some incidents, and finally after twenty years prioritize this marginalized issue, we could have true protection for Texas mothers.

To get there, we need massive involvement from supporters.  So that's where you come in.

Go to, where you'll find information to help you contact your State Representative and State Senator and ask them to support HB 232 (and HB 786 and SB 1479, to help working moms to pump at work, while you're at it).

If the site is loading slowly, go here and click on their names for contact info for your legislators.  If you have questions contact me at

I promise it's easy and not at all intimidating once you're doing it.  And it's empowering.

Share this information.

We can't make it about slacktivism or trashing businesses on Facebook or calling for a nurse-in.

Make your time matter by pushing for passage of breastfeeding bills that will be systemic solutions to systemic problems.

The Texas legislature needs to take responsibility for enforcing the laws it creates and protecting its most vulnerable citizens - our babies.

Tell them.


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