Whatcom County: Breastfeeding in public is not indecent

It’s a new exception to the law forbidding “any female to expose or permit public display of her bosom.”

By Robert Mittendorf / The Bellingham Herald

Breastfeeding is not indecent exposure, according to a measure approved unanimously by the Whatcom County Council.

It brings a local public nudity ordinance in line with state law and with current social norms.

“I’m bringing this forward to support breastfeeding,” said Councilwoman Carol Frazey, one of two women on the seven-member council.

“There’s so many benefits to breastfeeding if a person chooses to for the child and the person breastfeeding. We want to support those people and the health of the child,” Frazey said during a meeting Tuesday, April 6.

As written, Whatcom County code 9.08.020 regarding unlawful exposure says that “It is unlawful for any female to expose or permit public display of her bosom, in the nude or substantially exposed to public view, in any public establishment.”

Frazey’s measure adds: “except this shall not apply to a person who is breastfeeding a child. A person shall have the right to breastfeed a child in any location, public or private, where the person has the right to be with their child, without respect to whether the person’s breast or any part of it is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding of the child.”

Councilwoman Kathy Kershner proposed an amendment changing the word “person” to “woman” in the measure’s new wording.

But that was defeated 4-3, with Kershner and council members Tyler Byrd and Ben Elenbaas supporting the amendment.

“I believe the word ‘person’ is better than ‘female’ because there are people who do lactate who do not identify as female,” Frazey said. “I believe the word ‘person’ is more inclusive.’”

Councilman Rud Browne said it was “sensible” to use the gender-neutral term.

“If you leave the language as ‘person,’ you eliminate the need for a law-enforcement officer to make any determination about gender,” Browne said. “I think the average police officer would rather not have that responsibility and it could result in some very awkward moments.”

State law indicates that “the act of breastfeeding or expressing breast milk is not indecent exposure.”

And state anti-discrimination laws further guarantee the right to breastfeed and outlaw discrimination against someone who is breastfeeding.

All 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have laws that codify a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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