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Mothers push for reform of 'antiquated' breastfeeding law

BISMARCK (AP) — Some mothers are again pushing for the removal of what they describe as outdated language in state law governing breastfeeding in North Dakota.

Under current law, women may breastfeed in public “in a discreet and modest manner.” A bill scheduled for a hearing in the state Capitol on Tuesday aims to remove that language and make it illegal and punishable by up to a $1,000 fine to prohibit a mother from breastfeeding.

A near identical bill was rebuffed by the Republican-controlled Legislature two years ago, even after a small army of moms with babes in arms descended on the Capitol to push for reform.

“This is about hungry babies,” said Democratic Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, the primary sponsor of the new bill. The current law is “antiquated” and the definitions of “discreet and modest” are subjective, she said.

“In the 21st century, no state should have a law about how a baby should be fed in public,” Dobervich said.

She said she reintroduced the legislation again this session at the request of women’s groups and mothers. Bill HB1105 is sponsored by 10 Democrats, nine women and one man.

Lawmakers passed legislation in 2009 that exempted breastfeeding from the state’s indecent exposure laws, as long as “the woman acts in a discreet and modest manner.” The legislation was aimed at protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed in any public or private location.

Some Republicans have promised to support the bill if a $1,000 fine to an establishment that prohibits a mother from breastfeeding is removed.

“They had some heartburn with that,” she said, adding that she is ready with that amendment.

“The main thing is getting the language changed in the law,” she said.

The legislation was partially inspired after an incident a few years ago at a Fargo restaurant, Dobervich said. A woman was told to leave because she was breastfeeding her baby without a cover. The restaurant’s manager and its owner later apologized.