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Breast-feeding fight emerging in Forest Park

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

It is just one clause in a new public-nudity ordinance approved by the Forest Park City Council this week, but restrictions on breast-feeding in the city have mothers on at least three continents up in arms, according to one mother leading the fight against the ordinance.

The public-nudity ordinance prohibits people from appearing in a state of nudity, including showing genitalia, anal and pubic regions, or the cleft of a person's buttocks, or a female's breasts -- in public.

It allows an exemption to mothers who are breast-feeding, but only if they are nursing infants under the age of 2, which has upset nursing mothers, including Griffin resident, Jessica Lister.

She has formed a group of mothers, some of whom live as far away as Australia and Europe, who are opposed to the ordinance.

"We believe a child should be able to nurse at any age, in whatever venue they want," said Lister, who is still breast-feeding her 19-month old son.

Lister said approximately 154 mothers, from across Georgia and Alabama, have RSVP'd, via Facebook, to protest the ordinance by participating in a "Nurse-In," on Monday.

The "Nurse-In" is scheduled to last from 10 a.m., to noon, in front of Forest Park City Hall, which is located at 745 Forest Parkway, in Forest Park.

Lister said she and other nursing mothers hope to defeat the ordinance, rather than see it become the law of the land in Forest Park.

"There is supposed to be a final vote on it in June; we're hoping to get it overturned," she said.

Forest Park City Attorney Robert L. Mack, Jr., argued in a written statement that "the breast-feeding of a baby is still permitted" in Forest Park, despite the fact that the ordinance limits public breast-feeding to infants under two.

"The ordinance is aimed at 'public nudity,' not breast-feeding," Mack wrote in the statement. "Breast-feeding ... and performances in live plays, among other things, was carved out as an exception and exemption to the ordinance ... The breast-feeding of a baby is still permitted."

Lister said that, while the ordinance may not be an outright attack on breast-feeding, she believes it still limits a mother's right to breast-feed her children up to an age where they are ready to stop.

She said there are health and bonding benefits from breast-feeding that are the reasons why many mothers choose to do it, in some cases for years after a child is born.

"There's the health benefits," she said. "Breast milk contains white blood cells that help strengthen a child's immune system. It just makes all-around for a healthier child. There is also a sense of comfort and security, and I feel that's why it is a good idea to breast-feed your child. I follow an attachment concept where you learn to bond with your child, and that is just promoted through breast-feeding."

The ordinance condemns public nudity, claiming it will depress property values, bring in criminal activity, accelerate community blight, lower the "health, safety, welfare and morals of citizens," require more law enforcement personnel to "preserve law and order," and increase the burden on the local judicial system.

"It is the specific finding of the governing body that public nudity, under certain circumstances, begets criminal behavior and tends to create undesirable community conditions," the ordinance states.

Lister argued, however, that many nursing mothers that she knows are "very discreet" when they breast-feed their children in public. "I believe there's some girls, and adult women, who wear clothes that are more revealing than a nursing mother shows during breast-feeding," she said.

In addition to mothers who are breast-feeding infants under two, the only other exemptions to the prohibitions on nudity are children under 10, and live performances of "legitimate plays, operas, or ballets at mainstream theaters, concert halls, museums or educational institutions."