Doylestown reacts to law protecting public breast-feeding

Allegra Avila holds daughter Ora, 20 months, at a Doylestown Borough Council meeting.
Allegra Avila holds daughter Ora, 20 months, at a Doylestown Borough Council meeting. (BILL REED / Staff)
Posted: September 27, 2012

Allegra Avila likes to spend time in Doylestown's coffee shops and library with her 20-month-old daughter, Ora, but she feels anxious when it's time to breast-feed.

"Feeding in public is not an easy thing to do," the young mother says. "It's uncomfortable, wondering what people are thinking about you."

Now, thanks to a measure passed by the Borough Council, "I can nurse when the baby is hungry," Avila said Tuesday. "I will be able to relax."

The council voted, 6-3, Monday to amend its antidiscrimination law to protect a woman's right to breast-feed in public. The amendment provides a remedy if a woman is told to leave a store, restaurant, or park, or to move, such as to feed the baby in the restroom.

Supporters called the measure historic, with Doylestown becoming the second municipality in the state to provide a remedy for such discrimination. Opponents called it redundant to Pennsylvania's law and unnecessary, since there had been no recent complaints of discrimination.

Council President Det Ansinn said he proposed the amendment because he had heard talk of women "feeling uncomfortable" about breast-feeding in public.

Forty-five states have laws allowing public breast-feeding, with Pennsylvania's 2007 Freedom to Breastfeed Act one of the weakest because it lacks any remedy when there is discrimination, Jenkintown lawyer Jake Marcus said.

Under the amended law, a woman can file a complaint at Borough Hall, and Doylestown's human rights officer will talk to the named party, such as a shop owner or employee.

If there is no resolution, the officer will try to work it out with both sides. Otherwise, the officer will present findings of fact to the borough's volunteer Human Relations Commission.

Councilwoman Joan Doyle voted against the amendment.

"This affects local businesses. It makes it difficult for an owner to balance concern for customers with breast-feeding," she said.

Jona Franklin, owner of the Lilies of the Field women's clothing store on South Main Street, said she supported nursing but not the amended law.

The borough "is so quick to jump in and create a law," she said. "It puts the borough in a confrontation position with the merchants."

At Nonno's Italian Coffee Parlor on East State Street, barista and borough resident Federica Kaplan said women "should be able to breast-feed anywhere. It's a natural thing."

Outside a Starbucks at the center of town, Jim Philip disagreed.

"I wouldn't want to be sitting here with a woman feeding her baby at the breast," said Philip, 77, who has lived in the borough most of his life. "I guess I'm old-fashioned."


Contact Bill Reed at 215-801-2964, wreed@philly.com, and @breedbucks on Twitter. Read his blog, "BucksInq," at www.philly.com/bucksinq.

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