Last year, we covered the topic of indecent exposure and aggravated indecent exposure – which is one of those crimes that is treated as a felony by the court if you are convicted, although it is technically a misdemeanor. The language of the law prohibits anyone to expose their genitals, buttocks or breasts in public and ups the charge to “Aggravated” if the person is seen touching or fondling him or herself.
But what about breastfeeding? Couldn’t that be counted as aggravated indecent exposure under this definition?
Is Breastfeeding Indecent Exposure?
This is a hot button issue these days. Groups of nursing mothers will organize a “nurse-in” and publicly shame owners or employees of restaurants on social media if they get wind of a breastfeeding mother having been asked to cover up or to leave the premises. Similarly, there are complaints of bystanders over women not properly covering or too publicly feeding their infants
Public breastfeeding is not only not criminalized by law (the indecent exposure statute includes in its language an exemption for public breastfeeding), but in 2014 Governor Snyder signed an anti- discrimination act, which protects nursing mothers and gives them the right to openly breastfeed in any place that is open to the general public, including restaurants, stores, parks, churches, and municipal buses.
In fact, 47 states have laws like Michigan’s which specifically protect breastfeeding women in public areas. In the remaining three states, South Dakota and Virginia exempt nursing women from public indecency laws. Idaho is the only state in the union where breastfeeding mothers aren’t exempt from anything except jury duty.
Protected By Law
Sometimes women are still harassed when trying to breastfeed in public. For example, in 2009 Mary Martinez was escorted out of a Harper Woods Target for breastfeeding her four week old infant.
In 2011, Afrykayn Moon, was ordered off of a SMART bus by mall security officers after breastfeeding her son on the bus. In both cases, which happened before the 2014 law went into effect, punishment for those involved in shaming the nursing mother was left up to the companies involved.
Now that the Breastfeeding Anti-discrimination Act has been passed, however, owners or employees of any establishment cannot deny goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations to a breastfeeding woman. They also may not post signs prohibiting public nursing.
In addition, a woman can file a civil suit seeking injunctive relief, actual damages or presumed damages of up to $200 for discrimination against her while she was breastfeeding. A court could award the mother, in addition, full reimbursement for any legal costs she incurs by filing the suit. Additionally, there is companion legislation ensuring nursing mother’s protection from being charged with state laws about indecent exposure or disorderly conduct.
Indecent exposure is a crime. Aggravated indecent exposure is a felony. Breastfeeding is neither a crime nor punishable by law and is now protected by law in almost every state. In fact, it is those who harass a publicly breastfeeding mother who may face a civil suit and be forced to pay. Just as with many of our laws, some may not like it, but it’s the law, and it will be enforced.