According to an April 9 report from CNN, carefully hidden more than 1200 pages into the health care reform bill just signed into law is a provision which requires employers which employ more than 50 employees to provide those employees with designated rooms for breastfeeding purposes. According to the language in the law, the breastfeeding room must “shielded from view” and “free from intrusion from co-workers and the public.” And no, simply providing a comfortable chair in an existing restroom is not enough.
Here’s the explanation from the CNN piece, including some feel-good rationalization from someone who clearly doesn’t understand the proper role of government:
Women across America have felt uncomfortable in public situations when breastfeeding their children. Sarah Hood of Fayetteville, Arkansas, who works in advertising, got stares when breastfeeding her son in the open.
Working mothers like Nahar and Hood have had to carefully tailor their schedules so that they can pump milk in the middle of the day, and avoid stares when they put bottles in the communal refrigerators. Some have to use a bathroom stall to pump milk, as there is no other space available.
Nursing mothers will now get additional support, thanks to page 1239 of the health care bill that President Obama recently signed into law. It requires employers to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” Only companies with less than 50 employees can claim it’s an undue hardship.
“It reflects both a shifting attitude, a shifting reality, and also the impact of research that shows that it’s healthier for the kids, and therefore good for the company, good for the family,” said Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the nonprofit research organization Families and Work Institute.
Look, folks — I’ve obviously never been in such a situation. While my own man-mammaries have become more ample as I’ve packed on some weight over my law school career, they’re not being used to sustain another human life any time soon. And while I’m fairly secure in my resemblance to a hairy manatee when at the beach or pool, I understand completely how women would be pensive when it comes to breastfeeding in public.
That being said, the federal government has no business whatsoever mandating that employers provide dedicated breastfeeding facilities for employees. These aren’t infrastructure features intended to foster access for the disabled. These aren’t eye-washing stations or first aid kits designed to save the vision of and treat injuries sustained by employees exposed to hazardous materials and dangerous situations in the workplace. This is an unnecessary, onerous burden placed on American business and industry by bureaucrats who know nothing of balancing a budget or tending to a bottom line.
If companies want to provide such facilities on their own, more power to them. I think it’s a great idea, and it is certainly something that those companies can use to recruit the best talent in the job pool. After all, when looking for a job–in a better market, at least–many people choose to work for one organization over another based upon such perks. Child care availability, exercise facilities, reimbursed travel: all of those and more serve as determining factors for discriminating job-seekers — why shouldn’t dedicated breastfeeding rooms join that list of perks?
However, if we go down this road with regard to facilitating breastfeeding via government mandate, where does it stop? Eating fresh vegetables is commonly known to be good for people; will employers later be required to provide adequate refrigeration equipment? Studies might show that workers are more productive after a short nap; are mandated siestas far behind?
Perceived benefit should not lead to government mandate. But when we’re led by elected officials who believe wholeheartedly that it is the government’s purpose to take care of the people, rather than to protect the people, get out of the way, and facilitate the means by which the people can take care of themselves, we will just slide further and further toward the ultimate nanny state. Populist authoritarianism is not the American way.