County council rewrites indecent exposure law to allow public breastfeeding

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In its April 6 meeting, Whatcom County Council unanimously amended its indecent exposure code to include an exception for breastfeeding.

Previously, with the way code was written, it could be interpreted that breastfeeding in public would be a violation of the county’s indecent exposure law. “It is unlawful for any female to expose or permit public display of her bosom, in the nude or substantially exposed to public view, in any public establishment,” the previous county code read.

Councilmember Carol Frazey introduced a measure to council March 23 that would amend the code to continue, “except this shall not apply to a person who is breastfeeding a child. A person shall have the right to breastfeed a child in any location, public or private, where the person has the right to be with their child, without respect to whether the person’s breast or any part of it is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding of the child.”

Councilmembers and members of the public, while astonished by the current code, expressed their appreciation to Frazey and council for changing code that was in violation of state law.

“Thank you Carol,” county resident Melissa Wisener said. “I did not know that law was on the books and much like the previous speaker am flabbergasted that such a law even needs to be voted on. And I thank you, wholeheartedly, for finding that as a mother of two children who proudly breastfed all over Whatcom County.”

Washington state law declares “the act of breastfeeding or expressing breast milk is not indecent exposure.” State anti-discrimination laws also protect the right to breastfeed and outlaw discrimination against someone who is breastfeeding.

Councilmember Kathy Kershner proposed an amendment to change the word “person” to “woman” that council opposed 4-3. Frazey said she believed the word “person” to be more inclusive.

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