A Wisconsin councilwoman is fighting for her right to breastfeed during legislative sessions after her fellow elected officials voted to ban all children — which includes her baby — from sitting in on meetings because she tried to nurse.
Catherine Emmanuelle, who was elected to the Eau Claire City Council in 2013, returned to her position shortly after giving birth and chose to sit in the public seating area during meetings so she could nurse her baby. But she quickly found that it was difficult to do her job.
“During these times, I did not have access to a microphone, ability to ask questions, engage in debate, offer amendments, or have face-to-face contact when citizens were addressing the council,” Emmanuelle explained on Facebook on Monday, ahead of the vote. “It has become clear that in order to effectively govern, and effectively parent my child, I cannot continue to sit away from my legislative seat when I need to take care of/nurse my baby.”
Emmanuelle had previously hoped to make it through the meetings without leaving to nurse or pump breast milk, but found it was too painful, and the milk often leaked and calcified. Emmanuelle met with an attorney to confirm that she has the right to breastfeed on the central dais, where the councilpeople sit, as she is not officially an employee — she holds this position in addition to a full-time job. Wisconsin law allows women to breastfeed in any location — public or private.
“I had to really wrestle with: Am I OK with being silent about the discomfort I’m having?” Emmanuelle told Glamour. “Or do I need to say something and say, ‘No, I’m done not having my seat anymore. I’m going back to my seat’?”
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Her attorney sent a letter to City Council President Kerry Kincaid, explaining that Emmanuelle would now breastfeed on the dias. Kincaid then proposed the ban on children, which passed with a 7 to 1 vote on Tuesday.
“I ultimately decided in my duty as a chair that I could not let children be up on the dais during the meeting,” Kincaid said, according to the Leader-Telegram.
Emmanuelle’s attorney, Carousel Bayrd, said in response that, “this is pretext of discrimination, and it’s illegal.”
Emmanuelle chose to abstain from the vote, in protest.
“I felt a yes vote would be a vote against my country — setting a chilling precedent for parents who seek elected office. A no vote would be against me and my child,” she explained on Facebook.
Emmanuelle intends to fight back, and VoteRunLead, a group that advocates for women in politics, started a Change.org petition to eliminate the law, citing two similar cases in Boston and Washington, D.C. where city councils allowed women to breastfeed.
“Our governmental bodies have already proven that they can make it work with parents serving in elected bodies, including bringing their baby with them, including breastfeeding,” Emmanuelle told Glamour. “The proper thing is to include everybody in local government.”
“I’m going to keep moving forward and wearing all the hats that I already wear, which is a working mom and legislator, and I’m going to keep making decisions that are best for me and my family and the public that I serve.”