Councilor wanted to breastfeed in meetings, so the council banned kids

She called it a 'chilling precedent for parents who seek elected office.'

The Eau Claire City Council banned children from the members' platform on Tuesday, after one of its councilors wanted to breastfeed her infant son during meetings.

The controversy has been unfolding for almost a year in Wisconsin, after council member Catherine Emmanuelle first brought her son to a council meeting and nursed him.

She was told by the council president that four council members had complained about her breast-feeding on the council dais, and she agreed to sit in the public area with her son when he needed to nurse.

But as she explained on Facebook, this kept her away from contributing to council business and made it difficult interact with the public for long periods while her son was breastfed. 

Pumping breastmilk during meetings was also not a practical solution, as it would require her to leave the room and be away for long periods of time – and she couldn't do it at her seat because breast pumps are noisy.

After consulting with an attorney, she established she had a legal right in Wisconsin to stay in her legislative chair while she nursed her child, and told the council she would be returning to her seat and breastfeed if necessary.

On Tuesday, Wisconsin Public Radio reports that Eau Claire City Council voted 7-1 in favor of banning children from sitting among council members during meetings.

WPR reports the council said the move was taken to "formally establish council decorum," but Emmanuelle decried it as an illegal effort "keeping me at my legally protected seat to breastfeed my child when I need to be on the dais."

Emmanuelle abstained from the vote, saying on Facebook the legislation was drafted without her knowledge despite "months of working internally to find a respectable ... solution."

She said the legislation appeared mere days after she told the council she would return to her legislative seat, feeding her child on the occasion he needs to nurse "while honoring all rules of decorum."

"I felt a yes vote would be a vote against my country - setting a chilling precedent for parents who seek elected office," she wrote. "A no vote would be against me and my child. I abstained in a protest refusal to oppress and limit civic participation."

Breastfeeding is protected by state law

Wisconsin state law says a mother "may breast-feed her child in any public or private location where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be."

"In such a location, no person may prohibit a mother from breast-feeding her child, direct a mother to move to a different location to breast-feed her child, direct a mother to cover her child or breast while breast-feeding, or otherwise restrict a mother from breast-feeding her child as provided in this section."

Emmanuelle's case has attracted support from several organizations promoting women in public office, including RunVoteLead, Emerge Wisconsin and Moms Rising, which together sent the council a petition with 12,000 signatures supporting Emmanuelle.

During the meeting, the Star Tribune reports one council member, Kathy Mitchell, said a child on the dais would be a distraction, while another wondered that if Emmanuelle allowed her son, would it mean they could bring "all of their children?"

Two other councilors, who were younger members of the council, joined Emmanuelle in abstaining, the newspaper notes.

Emmanuelle said she would continue the fight to balance the gender roles in local politics.

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