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Senator Jeff Merkley's picture

Right now in America, working mothers are being discriminated against solely because they breastfeed their children. Last week the Ohio Supreme Court threw logic out the window when it ruled that a woman was rightfully fired for taking breaks at work to pump breast milk. Apparently it would have been acceptable for Lanisa Allen to take a break to use the bathroom as long as she didn’t pump breast milk in the process.

The Court argued that Totes/Isotoner had the right to fire Allen because she made the choice to breastfeed her child, which apparently does not qualify as a condition related to pregnancy and, therefore, does not constitute gender discrimination.

It is astounding that any court would come to a decision stating that breastfeeding is a condition unrelated to pregnancy. That’s like saying the branches of a tree aren’t at all related to the roots below the ground. All new mothers should have the opportunity to breastfeed their babies because it is integral to the health and long term well-being of the child.

There is significant scientific evidence showing that children who are breastfed have lower risks of disease and illnesses including asthma, diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that breastfeeding has significant health benefits for mothers as well. Yet, companies in America are allowed to fire working mothers for not only doing what’s best for the health of their child, but for themselves as well? That’s just plain wrong.

In Oregon, I championed an effort to provide working mothers with flexible break times and privacy to pump breast milk. We won that battle two years ago and now it’s time to expand Oregon’s effort nationwide.

In June, Representative Carolyn Maloney, who has been a long-standing champion of the right of women to breastfeed, and I introduced the Breastfeeding Promotion Act, a bill that would protect breastfeeding in the workplace by making it easier for nursing mothers to pump in private. Additionally, I proposed an amendment to the health reform bill to help provide new mothers with flexible break times and privacy to pump breast milk. The amendment garnered support from both sides of the aisle, was unanimously passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and was included in the Affordable Health Choices Act.

This ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court reaffirms why it’s important that Congress include this amendment in the health reform legislation. We must enable all working mothers with the opportunity to nourish their newborn children.

Working mothers have so much on their plates when they give birth to a child; the last thing they should have to worry about is whether they’ll lose their jobs just because they want to do what’s best for their babies when they return to work.

We have to work together to make sure that the case in Ohio, where a woman was fired for taking breaks at work to pump breastmilk for her newborn, never happens again.

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