SALT LAKE CITY — Legislators will try in the waning days of the 45-day session to prohibit discrimination against breastfeeding mothers in Utah.
HB196, a bill sponsored by Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, would prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy and allow women to breastfeed in any place of public accommodation without discrimination.
Fawson said it’s already illegal for employers to ask employees to leave their business when breastfeeding, but it is not illegal for employers to ask patrons to leave for the same reason.
He said 48 states already have this law; Utah and Idaho are the only two that don’t provide this protection.
“We want to make sure that women don’t have the embarrassment of being asked to leave an establishment here, in our family-friendly state,” Fawson said.
Fawson said the goal of HB196 is to further normalize breastfeeding practices.
Debra Coe, head of Mormon Women for Ethical Government’s anti-discrimination committee, said the group supports HB196.
“This is a very important bill,” Coe said. “Especially considering we have the highest birth rate.”
Utah’s birth rate is the highest at 17.6 per 1,000 people, according to the Census Bureau. The national rate is only 12.5.
Fawson also explained the benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and children.
He said breast milk contains antibodies and protects infants from bacteria and viruses. Breastfed children have fewer ear, respiratory and urinary tract infections and tend to need fewer health care visits, according to Fawson.
Fawson said breastfeeding also provides long-term benefits for mothers, including earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight and reduced risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and osteoporosis.
Josie Dearing, a young mother of three, said she thinks there are not only health benefits to breastfeeding, but personal emotional benefits as well.
“There is something really empowering about it,” Dearing said. “I built this baby with my body, I grew this baby in my body, and now I can feed this baby with my body.”
She said breastfeeding is also important for newborns emotionally.
“It’s a really special time with your newborn because it’s that skin-on-skin bonding time,” Dearing said. “Also, you know your breast milk is the best thing a newborn can get, so it’s just neat that you can provide that for them yourself.”
Dearing said many women have no choice but to breastfeed in public. She said it’s just a fact of life — babies need to eat, just like adults do.
“It’s hard enough to breastfeed already,” Dearing said. “Sometimes the baby won’t latch, and they hate having a cover over their face, and they get hot, or it’s windy outside and hard to stay covered, and it’s painful for the mother. So it’s hard enough already without the discrimination that can come with it.”
Many other mothers have shown up to the legislature to speak to HB196, but not all of them have been supportive of the bill.
Elaine Augustine, a mother of nine, said she is concerned the bill would infringe on the rights of businesses. She said over the many years she has breastfed her nine children, she has never had a problem with a public place being unaccommodating to her.
“I have found that businesses have already been accommodating,” Augustine said. “We do not need a law to make them do what they are already doing.”
HB196 has passed through the house and the Senate business and labor committee. It has been sent to the Senate for further discussion.