Do we really have to have a controversy over breastfeeding in public in Louisiana? Especially in a state known for at least one location notorious for public exposure of female breasts without babies attached?
It seems that in Leesville recently a restaurant owner informed a woman that she could not stay on the premises if she chose to breastfeed her baby uncovered – this in spite of R.S. 51:2247.1 that allows a woman to do so “in any place of public accommodation, resort, or amusement.” The female owner said if the mother did so she had to use a cover, but many women find them cumbersome and larger babies may have difficulty with them, and this case the mother refused. However, the law does not give owners the ability to require that, and while the mother graciously does not plan legal action against the establishment, the owner, citing decorum, put out a sign demanding that breastfeeding patrons cover up and plans to build an enclosed area in the dining room as a station for these mothers.
Besides the logistical problem in the rare instance that multiple women wish to breastfeed at the same time – which will be induced artificially as compatriots of the affected mother plan a kind of “nurse in” at the restaurant in the near future – even having a separate and enclosed area for this purpose does not affect a woman’s legal right to breastfeed uncovered in public in Louisiana. In fact, it explicitly exempts women from R.S. 14:106 that defines obscenity as showing the female nipple.
Technically, that law allows women to expose their breasts publicly in Louisiana as long as it is not intentional or doesn’t have “the intent of arousing sexual desire or which appeals to prurient interest or is patently offensive.” (Local governments may enact stricter criteria about what can’t show.) Only the last part might make any prohibition against exposed women’s breasts illegal, which apparently is not offensive, not even patently, in the Vieux Carre, but may be, in the opinion of the restaurant owner to some patrons, in Leesville.
But, come on, people. Not only does state law define breastfeeding openly not as “patently offensive,” but also as by definition the sole biological reason for human female breasts is to provide for breastfeeding, how can they performing their natural, beneficial act be considered offensive to anyone (even if a number of human males think them important for an entirely different reason)?
For better or worse, societal opinion across almost the entire state assigns a sexual connotation to bared female breasts, and whether communities choose to accept that and therefore through the democratic process and societal pressure inhibit their display by law or by shaming this simply should not apply that to the case of open breastfeeding. If patrons in a restaurant believe the act indecent, they need to get over it, and restauranteurs should understand a disapproving patron or two does not give them the right to disobey the law.
Of course, in a way the state gives mixed messages on this issue. While in R.S. 51:2247.1 it lauds breastfeeding as a natural activity that may be engaged in public places, in R.S. 49:148.4.1 it makes a presumption that it should be out of view at taxpayer expense. That law required in at least ten state buildings to construct a special room for breastfeeding and pumping milk, estimated at the time of the law’s passage to cost a minimum of $42,000. While one might sympathize with women who might feel more comfortable with this option, they don’t need to do so on the taxpayer dime.
Regardless, Louisianans should get with the program on this issue. The law is there to encourage this natural act that conveys both physical and psychological benefits to mother and child. Unreasonable narrow-mindedness by some on this is no excuse to flout the law.