A woman’s option to breast-feed her infant in public will become a right under a bill passed by the Assembly Monday and sent to the governor’s desk for what appears to be certain enactment into law.
Gov. Pete Wilson has described the measure as unnecessary regulation but has said he will sign it.
There is no legal bar now for mothers to breast-feed babies in public, but advocates note that women are often told to stop the practice when, for example, a customer in a store or restaurant complains.
Under the bill (AB 157) by Assembly Majority Leader Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles), women will have a clear, legal right to breast-feed in public.
The measure, with no debate, was given final legislative passage Monday by an Assembly vote of 48 to 8.
Villaraigosa said earlier that his office had been flooded with complaints from women prevented from performing what he called a healthy, natural act.
The time has come, he said, to “get past the sexuality of a woman’s breast.”
Villaraigosa tried to move similar legislation in 1995, but it was killed in an Assembly committee by Republicans who at the time held a lower-house majority. Democrats regained Assembly control in last November’s elections. This year, however, Republicans joined in supporting the Villaraigosa bill, which passed by safe margins in both houses.
Experience in other states shows that, when similar laws were passed, harassment of breast-feeding mothers stopped, Villaraigosa said during earlier debate. He argued that passage of his bill would create the same heightened public awareness and acceptance in California.
Republicans who remained opposed said they feared “frivolous lawsuits,” impositions on business and health risks associated with locations such as dusty baseball parks.
In April, Wilson called the bill one of hundreds that the Legislature sends him every year that the state does not need. But he signs them, he said, because vetoes would “impose a great burden on the staff.”
Surveys show that about 75% of California women breast-feed their newborns, but only 20% are still breast-feeding when their babies reach 6 months old, and the rate drops to 5% at age 1.
Among reasons mothers give for abandoning breast-feeding their infants, the studies show, is public disapproval of the practice.