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Decriminalizing breast feeding

The Baltimore Sun

If there is one area of human behavior into which legislatures should not have to intrude, it would surely be breast feeding.

Nature's brilliant plan for nourishing infants that also helps support tiny immune systems is regarded by medical experts as superior to any substitute method and thus widely encouraged.

Yet more than 40 states, including Maryland, have enacted statutes to affirmatively assert a mother's right to nurse her child in public or at least to exempt her from criminal prosecution under indecency laws. A more sweeping proposal is also pending at the federal level.

Is this necessary? It shouldn't be. But the genesis of such laws was made clear enough recently when a nursing mother was put off a Delta Air Lines flight in Vermont because she refused to put a blanket over her child's head.

Amazingly, in a society where the nearly naked female form is on display in movies, on television, and in advertising on all manner of media, some people are offended at a glimpse of the breast being used as nature intended.

Vermont is among the many states that protect a mother's right to breast feed, and a complaint in this case has been filed with the state Human Rights Commission.

But Delta Air Lines has already apologized for the incident, which took place on one of its contract carriers. The carrier, Freedom Airlines, also affirmed its own policy of allowing passengers to breast feed with or without a blanket.

The role of state laws, most enacted over the past decade, has been to speed an evolution of how society accommodates breast feeding. When nursing mothers mostly stayed home it wasn't an issue. As they became more common in the workplace, though, the burden was typically on them to find secluded corners or bathrooms to nurse or pump their milk.

For all the talk about family values in this country, it's taken a major political movement to bring nursing mothers out of the shadows. A federal law should not be required to complete the job.

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