The latest progress concerning breastfeeding legislation comes from Massachusetts, where breastfeeding mom Sophie Currier sued the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) after being denied additional break time to pump during the nine-hour long exam. From the time the case began in 2007 until now, two lower courts ruled in favor of Currier, then NBME appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts issued it’s opinion regarding the appeal on Friday, April 13, 2012 which states: “Our decision in the context of the equal rights act and public accommodation statute counts, that lactation is a sex-linked classification, recognizes that there remain barriers that prevent new mothers from being able to breastfeed or express breast milk. We take this opportunity to extend protection to lactating mothers in the context of lengthy testing required for medical licensure.”
So what does this mean for breastfeeding moms? I consider the remarks contained within the opinion issued by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to be a win for moms and babies even though the court was careful to limit their opinion to the specifics of this case only and the case has now been sent back to a lower court for a final ruling.
Why? For two reasons:
First, because the court’s opinion is a proposed expansion of the definition of sex-linked discrimination to include lactation in Massachusetts - a much-needed step in the right direction (other protected classes in America include race, color, religion, sex, or national origin). Previous attempts to link breastfeeding discrimination to sex discrimination have failed across the country because the courts have ruled that breastfeeding is not sex discrimination since not all women breastfeed. However, since the physiology of lactation is part of the female anatomy and reproductive system, it can be argued that breastfeeding discrimination IS sex discrimination (at least Massachusetts believes so).
Second, because when the highest court of Massachusetts clearly recognizes the barriers — the Booby Traps(R)– that prevent breastfeeding moms from reaching their personal breastfeeding goals as important in making their decision, it validates and brings credibility to breastfeeding moms everywhere who are seeking legislative changes, protection through enforcement, and accommodation throughout America. You can find several groups of these everyday but exceptional breastfeeding moms seeking legislative changes within their state government from the eastern state of Georgia, to the western state of Idaho, and more.
I commend Sophie Currier for taking this legal stance on a public health issue in a society that doesn’t fully support breastfeeding women making the healthiest and economically best choices for mom, baby, and the planet. It is so inspiring to witness breastfeeding moms of America standing united to raise public awareness and to rally for change.