Breastfeeding Moms Should Be Excused From Jury Duty, Not Fined

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Seems like breastfeeding a baby should be a valid excuse to be cleared from jury duty. But in most states it’s not. And in the state of Missouri, a breastfeeding mom who reported to jury duty anyway, was slapped with a fine – for bringing her baby.

I can sympathize with Laura Trickle of Lee’s Summit, Missouri. For several years, I was frequently summoned to jury duty. Serving my civic duty on a panel of 12 is something I’ve always wanted to do -- just not when I have a newborn to nurse. I was also summoned when my firstborn was an infant – a colicky, allergy-plagued baby – and I don’t know what I would have done if I had been required to serve on a trial. Like Trickle’s son Axel, my son relied solely on breastmilk. He couldn’t tolerate any formula – not dairy, not soy, not even the super-expensive hypoallergenic kinds. Pumping milk wasn’t even an option, because he refused to take a bottle (probably too many bad experiences with those formulas). Luckily, I live in California, one of the 12 states which exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty.

July 16, 2012 - Napa, CA, U.S. - MONDAY - JULY 16, 2012 - NAPA, CA -.About two dozen moms gathered to protest outside the Social Security offices on Monday morning. The protest was in response to a security guard who last week asked a nursing mother to leave the government office, saying she was not allowed to nurse in a federal building..J.L. Sousa/Register. (Credit Image: © Napa Valley Register/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Had I been required to show up at the courthouse anyway, I might have done what Laura Trickle did: I would have brought my baby with me so he could nurse. There are so many other ways the Jackson County courts could have dealt with this situation. If the courts wouldn’t excuse her from jury duty, they should have allowed her to bring her child with her. But having a potentially crying infant present at a serious legal procedure isn’t exactly ideal, either. The courts should have given Trickle a temporary exemption, say for six months or one year, at which time she would go back in the jury pool. That’s what happened to me. I received another summons a few years later, but never made the shortlist to actually show up in front of the judge and attorneys. And Laura Trickle would be happy to serve on a jury, too, telling the Kansas City Star:

“The issue is the timing,” she said. “I just can’t do it right now.”

At least some lawmakers in Missouri see the craziness of these laws. Physician and State Senator Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) introduced a bill to protect nursing mothers and their babies. The Missouri Senate passed that bill in April, but it has yet to be heard in the House.

And the saddest part yet? Laura Trickle will now have to return to court on Thursday – this time, defending herself against charges of contempt of court.

News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs about raising an Asian mixed-race family at HapaMama.

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