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Committee Passes Amended Version of Bill Aimed at Protecting Breastfeeding in Public

A bill aimed at protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed in public is making its way through the Legislature. Members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee amended the measure before passing it on to the full Senate.

Proponents of Senate Bill 77 say breastfeeding helps reduce disease among infants and children, creates health benefits for mothers, and has a positive economic impact. Molly Rasby is with the South Dakota Breastfeeding Coalition. She says the rate in which moms breastfeed long-term in South Dakota is low. By six months about 16% of moms are still nursing, and fewer than 12% are nursing at one year. Rasby says for many women, the feeling of embarrassment prevents them from breastfeeding in public. She and the other proponents say it’s important for nursing moms to feel comfortable and to know they’re able to feed their baby whenever and wherever is needed.
While no one spoke against the bill, or breastfeeding, committee members voted to amend the measure before passage. Senator Craig Tieszen’s amendment says no municipality may ban breastfeeding in public places, but the mother has to be in compliance with all other state and municipal laws.
“Municipalities such as where I come from, Rapid City, have indecent exposure ordinances which prohibit completely bare breasts,” Tieszen says. “And so women who are breast feeding would have to be in compliance with that ordinance, in other words they would need to be discreet. Which again I think most or all are.”
South Dakota Breastfeeding Coalition’s Molly Rasby says she’s concerned the amendment allows for too much of a grey area. She says she doesn’t want mothers to worry they’re breaking indecent exposure laws. Instead, she says, breast feeding should be viewed as a normal, healthy act.
“There’s going to be instances where people are going to be uncomfortable with the human breast, and that is our culture,” Rasby says. “And one of the ways we combat that culture in my belief is we say, ‘this is not indecent.’”
The majority of committee members ultimately voted for the amendment, saying it improves the bill’s chances of making it through the rest of the Legislature. They then voted to pass the bill.