2020 Presidential Candidates On Breastfeeding Rights: How 8 Hopefuls Have Advocated In The Past
While the health benefits of breastfeeding are well known, many mothers continue to face stigma and obstacles when it comes to breastfeeding in public, pumping at work, or simply getting the support they need. Even more troublesome, breastfeeding rights remain a largely under-discussed issue, especially when it comes to political elections. And so, as the 2020 presidential election slides into Breastfeeding Awareness Month, let's take a look at how presidential candidates have advocated for breastfeeding rights.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, federal law currently requires that all employees covered by Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) have access to both the time needed to nurse or pump as well as a private space — that is not a bathroom — in which to do so. But despite the law (which it's important to note does not cover all employees), a number of working women have continued to allege and report experiencing breastfeeding discrimination on the job.
What's more, a study published earlier this year found that two-thirds of employees who'd filed breastfeeding discrimination cases ended up losing their jobs in the end as a result of either being fired or forced to resign, as Forbes reported. That same study also found that three-quarters of employees alleging discrimination suffered an economic penalty of some kind, such as a forced cut in hours.
That's why it's important to have elected officials who are willing to advocate not only for families and working mothers, but for breastfeeding rights specifically. Here's how some 2020 candidates, in alphabetical order, have advocated for breastfeeding rights in the past.
Bill de Blasio
In 2016, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into a law a bill requiring city agencies that serve members of the public to provide access to a lactation room. In a statement released at the time he signed the bill into law, de Blasio hailed it as being an issue of "fairness, access, and health."
"No new mother should be unable to breastfeed because she can't find a private space," he said. "This bill takes our city one step towards being a place where all women feel comfortable breastfeeding whenever they need to, wherever they need to."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is one of a handful of senators to co-sponsor of the Supporting Working Moms Act of 2017, a bill designed to extend existing federal pumping protections set forth in the Affordable Care Act to also cover exempt employees. What's more, she was once a working, nursing mother and has, according to HuffPost, discussed the challenges of juggling both the need to nurse with her work in Congress in her memoir Off The Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World.
Gillibrand also noted in her memoir that she returned from maternity leave with a new perspective, one that would see her advocate for families and working mother. "I wanted my colleagues to take notice that I was going to represent my district and serve my country from the perspective of a new and working parent," the Huffington Post reported she wrote. "I would view the world differently than most of my co-workers, and I felt very strongly that that difference was essential and good."
In 2017, Sen. Kamala Harris was a co-sponsor of the Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act, which called for requiring all medium and large airports to provide a clean, private lactation room in each terminal building. While the act itself was not passed, its language was incorporated into bills granting the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration that did pass in 2018, according to the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee
Harris is also listed as a co-sponsor of the Supporting Working Moms Act.
Earlier this year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law that expanded federally-mandated break rights for breastfeeding moms in the state. According to the Associated Press, the legislation enables both hourly and salaried workers to take pump breaks at work for up to two years after giving birth.
While Sen. Amy Klobuchar is not listed as a co-sponsor of the Supporting Working Moms Act, she is reported to have been a sponsor of the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act. What's more, she's also reported to have been an outspoken advocate in the 2018 fight to overturn a longstanding ban prohibiting babies from being brought on to the floor of the Senate. According to The Wrap, Klobuchar used a Dr. Seuss-style rhyme to break the issue down for male colleagues.
In 2015, Beto O’Rourke co-sponsored Rep. Grace Meng's Fair Access for Moms Act, which aimed to expand a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to nursing mothers. The bill would have made the provision a requirement for companies with 15 or more employees, rather than the law's current 50 or more employees.
In the Senate, Sen. Bernie Sanders has advocated for breastfeeding rights by joining a handful of his Senate colleagues in co-sponsoring the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act. The presidential hopeful has also spoken out publicly about the importance of combating the stigma around public breastfeeding after a mother photographed breastfeeding at one of his 2016 campaign rallies reported receiving hate mail.
"As a society, we should never stigmatize women for breastfeeding in public," he wrote in a 2016 tweet sharing the woman's story.
In a Facebook post describing her experience at Sanders' rally as well as the aftermath of her picture going viral, the mother said Sanders and his wife "both thanked me for doing what mothers do and taking care of my daughter when she needed her mom, even if that meant nursing in public!"
Earlier this year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined Senate colleagues Steve Daines and Tammy Duckworth in introducing the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act. The bill requires federal buildings that are open to the public to have a clean and private lactation room that comes complete with a chair, working surface, electricity, and electrical outlet.
"Breastfeeding has significant benefits for the health and wellbeing of a baby and it's mother," Warren said in a statement released by her office in February. "Mothers deserve the flexibility to be able to breastfeed or pump as needed. It is well past time for women to have dedicated space in public buildings to take care of their babies, consistent with federal recommendations on rooms for nursing mothers."
According to Fox affiliate KFYRTV, the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump earlier this month. Warren is also a known co-sponsor of the Supporting Working Moms Act.
It's important to note that while a presidential candidate may not have directly advocated for breastfeeding rights (and thus not made this list), they may still support a mother's right to breastfeed at work or in public. What's more, many 2020 presidential candidates have made supporting other issues that pertain to breastfeeding and women's health a part of their election campaigns. For example, Sen. Michael Bennet's 2020 campaign includes a promise to increase funding for a variety of maternal and infant health-related research, including the health effects of breastfeeding. That being said, perhaps Breastfeeding Awareness Month is the perfect time for more presidential candidates to start discussing breastfeeding rights.