July 02, 2004
Nurse-in at the Galleria

The local news has had a field day with the nursing mothers' protest that took place yesterday at the Galleria.

They came with strollers and diaper bags, lifting up their shirts ever so slightly to champion mothers' rights to breast-feed their babies -- in public.

Call it the nurse-in. A peaceful protest without the screaming banners but with hungry infants 3 to 18 months old.

About 50 nursing mothers gathered Thursday for a demonstration at the Galleria near, aptly, the Baby Gap, where four days earlier Julie Doyle-Madrid said a female security guard asked her to cover herself in the middle of feeding her 4-month-old baby, Will.

Doyle-Madrid said another officer then told her it was the mall's preference for breast-feeding mothers to do so in a less populated area of the mall or in a restroom.

Doyle-Madrid moved but was incensed. She then told a friend about the incident, and she passed the word on.

The outrage soon spread through e-mail messages, play groups and parent meetings until a demonstration was born.

"I think it's a silly thing to be preoccupied with," said nursing mother Melynda Jones as 3-month-old Macy rested on a Boppy pillow while taking her 30-minute liquid lunch.

"We're suppose to nurture our kids. We shouldn't be banned to the bathroom to do it. Who wants to sit in a bathroom for 30 minutes?" she said.

For the record, the law in Texas is short and sweet on this point:

165.002. RIGHT TO BREAST-FEED. A mother is entitled to breast-feed her baby in any location in which the mother is authorized to be.

The Galleria and its overzealous security guard therefore had no legal standing to ask Ms. Doyle-Madrid to move. Period.

What's truly appalling about this story, though, is the explanation given by the Galleria's spokesperson for why the security guard asked Ms. Doyle-Madrid to move:

Galleria spokeswoman Connie Hascher said the incident was a misunderstanding. She said the officer only approached the nursing mother after she saw four men watching the woman as she breast-fed.

She said the officer's suggestion was in consideration for Doyle-Madrid's privacy.

Hascher said the mall doesn't have a policy or preference about where a mother can nurse, and she wasn't aware of any complaints from patrons offended by public nursing.

"We recognize any woman can breast-feed out in the public, and we support their right to do that," she said.

Emphasis mine. Are you telling me that the officer, who was apparently concerned enough by the four men who were ogling this woman to do something about it, chose not to confront them and tell them to move along but instead asked the target of their leering to go and hide? If those men had been watching Ms. Doyle-Madrid while she'd been sitting there reading a book instead, would the security guard have helpfully suggested that she go read in the bathroom? Who's causing the problem here, the woman feeding her baby or the four creeps who are staring at her in a sufficiently obvious manner as to attract the attention of the mall cops? Un-freaking-believable.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 02, 2004 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

Not to nitpick, but the law on breast feding is indeed short and sweet, but still open to interpretation in this case.

165.002. RIGHT TO BREAST-FEED. A mother is entitled to breast-feed her baby in any location in which the mother is authorized to be.

That provides clear protection for public streets and facilities. But the Galleria is a private facility, they could decide to not "authorize" a nursing mother to be there. That would be silly, but as I read it completely legal.

Posted by: Patrick on July 2, 2004 5:21 PM

Yes, I can see where that could be open for some interpretation. I expect they'd have a hard time coming up with something even remotely broad that would withstand a court challenge, though.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on July 2, 2004 5:48 PM

"But the Galleria is a private facility, they could decide to not "authorize" a nursing mother to be there. That would be silly, but as I read it completely legal." - Patrick

The Galleria may well be a "public accommodation" under the law. I'm not a lawyer, so I cannot say for certain. If it is, then the Galleria, privately owned though it may be, may have no more right to deny a mother her legally protected right to breast-feed a baby there than they would have, say, to tell an African American that they had no right to shop there.

One of the greatest principles legally established by the civil rights movement in the Sixties is that owning a facility that serves the public does not automatically confer all possible rights on the owner. Remember those "we have the right to refuse service to anyone" signs? Have you noticed one lately, say, in the past four decades?

Posted by: Steve Bates on July 2, 2004 9:19 PM

I'm in Vermont and fortunately our House representatives and senate passed a law allowing breast-feeding.

But your point about "we have the right to refuse service to anyone" signs.... I have noticed "no shirt, no shoes, no service" signs in stores and restaurants. Comments?

Posted by: Jay Vos on July 3, 2004 8:20 AM

People can't stare in malls now?

That's one I hadn't heard before.

Very progressive, Charles.

Posted by: kevin whited on July 3, 2004 9:43 AM

Jesus, Kevin, are you being deliberately dense? I said that these jerks had stared in a sufficiently obvious way to attract the attention of security, and that security's response was to put the onus on the woman they were staring at.

Had the security gaurd approached the men and told them to shove off, we could then debate whether that response was proper or an overreaction to a little harmless girl-watching. But that's not what happened. My point, which I'll say again for your benefit since you obviously need to hear it again, is that the security guard made it the woman's responsibility for being stared at. That's what's gotten me riled up, OK?

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on July 3, 2004 12:35 PM

I knew they had planned this but hadn't heard anything about how it went. Wish I'd been there. With a 2 yr old and 4 yr old, both still nursing, I would have given everybody plenty to gawk at. ;)

Posted by: hope on July 4, 2004 10:56 PM