I've been quiet for the last few months because, well, my son started crawling and life just hasn't slowed down long enough for me to think let alone actually write down any thoughts. We're still really busy, but the story from Vermont has forced me to find some time.
Okay, so if you haven't heard, on October 13th, Emily Gillette, her husband and daughter were removed from an airplane set to make its delayed take-off from Burlington, VT, after Gillette declined a blanket that a flight attendent offered her to cover herself while she breastfed. She was in the window seat in the second-to-last row of a commuter plane, with her husband seated beside her in the aisle row. The only person on the plane who had an issue with this mom breastfeeding is the flight attendent, who told Gillette, "You are offending me." Despite the fact that Gillette explained that the law allowed her to breastfeed on the plane, the attendent had a Delta ticket agent come on board and order the family to leave. According to Gillette, the family did not make a scene, but quietly left, with the mom in tears. Though a news report says the pilot offered to let the family back on the plane, Gillette contends that was not the case and that the family would have jumped at the chance to get back on the plane and on their way to New York.
Gillette has filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission. Vermont law states a "mother may breastfeed her child in any place of public accommodation in which the mother and child would otherwise have a legal right to be," so thankfully, because the plane was in Vermont when this happened, this particular mom has some recourse. She has an organization behind her to enforce whatever agreement she reaches with the airlines involved. Here in Oregon and in most states, mothers do not have such protection. There is a patchwork of laws of varying degrees of strength, with varying degrees of enforcebility. Oregon law states that a woman may breastfeed in a public place, which sounds alright, but there's a question as to whether that means "public" in terms of publicly owned, like a park or government building, or "public" in terms of "place of public accommodation" which would include restaurants, grocery stores, airplanes... There should be no question. As stated in Vermont law, "breastfeeding a child is an important, basic and natural act of nurture that should be encouraged in the interest of enhancing maternal, child and family health."
As Emily Gillette said herself, this is bigger than the airlines. We need to get beyond the patchwork of protection. Congress needs to pass the Breastfeeding Promotion Act: amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect breastfeeding mothers from discrimination; provide tax incentives for businesses that establish private lactation areas in the workplace; provide for a performance standard for breast pumps; and provide families with a tax deduction for breastfeeding equipment.
What you can do now:
Organize or join a nurse-in at the Delta ticket counter of your nearest airport. Let the media know you are doing this in support of Emily Gillette and passage of the Breastfeeding Promotion Act. For more information about organizing a nurse-in or to find one that's being organized, join the Yahoo group dedicated connecting breastfeeding advocates for Tuesday's nurse-ins.
Sign the MomRising petition in support of the Breastfeeding Promotion Act.
Write a letter to your local newspaper. Get this issue back on the front burner.
Write a letter to Congresswoman Maloney, urging her to press again for passage of the Breastfeeding Promotion Act. Write to your own congressional delegates and ask them to support this legislation. Now is the time!