For bringing her 7-month-old son, Axel, to jury duty so she could breastfeed him, Laura Trickle is facing arrest.
Trickle, of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, was first summoned to jury duty in January. Because she was pregnant, she was granted a postponement. Axel was born in March; in August, Trickle received another jury duty notice. She informed court officials that she was breastfeeding but, as KMOV reports, was told that she had to report to court and find a caregiver for her son.
Hoping that the judge might grant her an exemption, Trickle brought Axel to Jackson County Court only to be charged with contempt of court on the grounds that she “willfully and contemptuously appeared for jury service with her child and no one to care for the child.” Trickle must attend a hearing scheduled for Thursday in Jackson County Circuit court; she faces a fine of up to $500 and could also be arrested.
Missouri law does allow for some exemptions should a juror face “an undue or extreme physical or financial hardship,” as Jackson County Presiding Judge Marco Roldan said to the Kansas City Star. Roldan noted that he has, on some occasions, “excused potential jurors who just had a death in the family, or teachers who were scheduled to give midterm exams.”
But, as Roldan told KMOV, mothers who breastfeed are not seen as incurring such “undue or extreme physical or financial hardship” as they can ”pump on breaks or bring someone along to care for their children and nurse on breaks.”
Trickle countered that it would indeed have been a hardship for her and Axel if she were not able to breastfeed him as he does not take a bottle and must be with her to eat. She also noted that, as a stay-at-home mother, she does not have a child care provider.
Some States Exempt Breastfeeding Mothers From Jury Dury, But Not Misouri
The options that Roldan offered Trickle rest on a number of assumptions, that a woman who’s been nursing an infant full-time can just start pumping as needed; that an exclusively breast-fed child will just go to a bottle; that a mother who’s been staying at home to care for a newborn can find and pay for a caregiver for however long she has jury duty (and whether a child will be comfortable with that unfamiliar caregiver for an extended period of time).
Anne Biswell of the Mother & Child Health Coalition, which serves the Kansas City area, says that legislation to exempt breastfeeding women from jury duty is being reintroduced in the next session of the Missouri legislature. Indeed, if Trickle lived just across state lines in Kansas, there would have no issue at all as Kansas is one of the twelve states in which breastfeeding women are exempt from just duty.
A change to Missouri’s jury duty law may not be so easy to accomplish. Were lawmakers to consider exempting breastfeeding mothers, “the needs of other stakeholder groups, such as those who care for the elderly or infirm,” would also need to be considered, says Nikki Simmons, a Stockton, Mo., spokeswoman for La Leche League, to the Kansas City Star.
Noting that “a lot of women immediately go into defensive mode” about Missouri’s not allowing an exemption from jury dury for breastfeeding mothers, Simmons suggests that women ought to seek a solution on an ad hoc basis by consulting with someone whom she refers to as a “gatekeeper”:
“…sometimes what new moms forget is that sometimes all it takes is going and having a gentle conversation with a gatekeeper, who is often a secretary.”
But women seeking to do what is best for their young children should not have to make such “arrangements” via a “gentle conversation.” Simmons’ comments only offers more reason as to why Missouri needs to change its law and exempt breastfeeding women from jury dury.
Trickle was not trying to avoid her duty as a citizen but to do what she needs to do as a mother. Calling the whole situation “scary,” she emphasizes that she is more than willing to serve jury duty but “the issue is the timing. I just can’t do it right now.”
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