Article by Fran Kandel Recipient Zoe Lillian
As a reproductive justice activist turned future lawyer, the Fran Kandel Public Interest Grant was invaluable to my summer internship at the ACLU of Southern California’s LGBTQ, Gender Equity and Reproductive Justice Project. While there, in addition to working on religious refusal to prescribe contraception policy questions and monitoring trans and reproductive health in Los Angeles County prisons and jails, I developed a lactation rights campaign: creating model advocacy letters for breastfeeding parents in the workplace, in schools and in prisons and jails.
Breastfeeding is an important health choice for mothers and babies. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that all babies be breastfeed exclusively for the first six months after birth and advises that breastfeeding continue for a minimum of 12 months. Women breastfeed at work, in school, in parks, in restaurants and in public transportation. You are legally allowed to breastfeed your child anywhere your child is legally permitted to be. When parents aren’t directly feeding their babies breast to mouth, they are pumping. Parents pump in prison, at the office, between classes and, often in subpar accommodations such as bathrooms, cars or storage closets.
California has among the strongest protections for breastfeeding parents in the nation but – like many protections – individuals and businesses do not know what the laws are; parents do not know what recourse they have or what they are entitled to.
Though the laws protecting breastfeeding parents and defining lactation accommodations are clear, they are often not honored. As a busy parent, it is hard to research what the law is and figure out how to best explain lactation accommodations to an employer, or that a student missing class to pump cannot be penalized academically. The challenge of designated person who can pick up your pumped milk while incarcerated is daunting.
In response to this need, I created a series of model letters that parents can use to request lactation accommodations before they go back into work or school, notify employers of noncompliance and coordinate pick-up and delivery of breastmilk while in prison or jail. I also compiled an easy-to-consult table with the information of the different agencies to file complaints with for violations. I presented these letters to the ACLU and they will live on the ACLU’s website and be disseminated to breastfeeding coalitions throughout the state.
Pregnancy and parenthood have been co-opted as tools of oppression. From deciding if we chose to be pregnant or not, to how if and how we parent, stigma and coercion abound. Thanks to the Fran Kandel Public Interest scholarship, I was able to not only help an organization whose work I completely believe in, but I was also able to make a concrete contribution to the lives of lactating parents. I am passionate about and excited for a career in reproductive justice and WLALA’s support has allowed me to take the first steps on my career journey.