Chick-fil-A at the Center of Public Breastfeeding Controversy

Women staged a Chick-fil-A nurse-in. Photo: Twitter/News 6Aiming to educate diners about a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, a group of about 20 women staged a "nurse-in" Wednesday at a Chick-fil-A in Knoxville, Tennessee. That’s where, earlier in the week, an employee had asked a mother nursing her 5-month-old daughter to stop.

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"Just as I was finishing up, an employee came up and told me other parents were afraid of letting their children play while I was feeding her, especially without a cover," mom Jennifer Day told ABC News 6 in Knoxville. So she rallied other lactating pals, who decided the protest would be an effective way of letting folks know that the state law — which allows women to breastfeed anywhere, public or private, where they are "otherwise authorized to be present" — is on the mom’s side.

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"We want everyone to feel safe. We want nursing mothers to feel safe. Because what is more family than a mother and her baby? And this is a family restaurant," nurse-in co-organizer Anna Hurley (a former Chick-fil-A employee) told the TV station. "We just want to normalize breastfeeding. We just want society to change its views.”

Chick-fil-A—which was under fire last year for making millions in donations to political organizations that oppose gay rights—released a statement, saying, “The manager has apologized and regrets any offense he may have caused." The restaurant also plans to now work with the East Tennessee Breastfeeding Coalition for some sensitivity training, the coalition told News 6.

"I called them," Sherri Hedberg, coalition chair told Yahoo! Shine. "It's something we do in our area. Chick-fil-A is not the first place to give a woman a problem over this. I just tell them, 'I'm here to help.'" Hedberg said she sent the restaurant a training packet, but because the franchise owner was away, a formal commitment could not yet be made.

As for the nurse-in, she added, "It turned out great. Chick-fil-A was very welcoming and accommodating, and it was kind of like a big party. The customers, for the most part, were fine."

Unfortunately, this was just the latest breastfeeding brouhaha in what’s been an ongoing issue, despite state laws, which support women's rights to nurse in public.

"It's not illegal to breastfeed anywhere in this country," Jake Marcus, a Philadelphia-based lawyer and breastfeeding activist, told Yahoo! Shine. But, she explained, because of "poorly written laws" that, for the most part, have no enforcement provisions, the legal authority for a woman to breastfeed actually lies with the owner of an establishment in most states, including Tennessee.

"You have a right to breastfeed as long as the owner has given you the right to be there and to breastfeed," Marcus said. So legally, if a proprietor asks a woman to stop breastfeeding and she does, then she can stay. If she doesn't stop and is asked to leave but does not, a proprietor can then explain to the police that she is a trespasser and have her arrested. Only a handful of states, including New Jersey and Vermont, have enforcement provisions attached to their laws.

On Wednesday, a group of 25 women held a nurse-in at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to protest a July incident on an American Airlines flight; that one involved an anonymous woman who was allegedly asked to cover up by a flight attendant so as not to offend the kids who were on the plane.

And earlier this week—which just happened to be World Breastfeeding Week—mom Lucy Eades was asked, because of “indecency,” to stop nursing her newborn at the Burleson Recreation Center in Texas as she waited for her older daughter to take dance class. That exchange, between a rec center employee and Eades, was recorded and uploaded to YouTube (where the video has been viewed more than 540,000 times) by the baby’s dad, who eventually asked the employee to leave his family alone. The city of Burleson, amazingly, defended itself, issuing a release that said, in part, “To be respectful of everyone's rights we asked the women to cover up.” A nurse-in is now slated to take place at the rec center on Saturday.

In July, a Belgian mom and her diplomat husband were asked to leave a White Plains, New York, country club after an employee allegedly told breastfeeding mom Roseline Remans, "Please leave immediately, you are disturbing the members."

“Lactivists” have also been outspoken around the world on the issue recently, with women staging a nurse-in this week in Santorini, Greece, where a breastfeeding woman had been chased away from a café. Earlier this summer, hundreds of Danish moms held a protest in front of Copenhagen’s City Hall after a woman nursing her baby in a nearby restaurant was told by patrons that it was “disgusting.”

“Either you're family friendly or you're not,” blogger Jeanne Sager noted on the Stir in response to the Texas incident this week. “And as long as you're not OK with breastfeeding moms, you're NOT family-friendly.”

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