Stephanie Rhodus was breastfeeding her 8-month old son in court when the judge suddenly told her to “cover up,” saying that what she was doing was inappropriate.
“Ma’am, you need to cover up,” the North Carolina judge said, according to a court audio. “For you not to realize that is absolutely ridiculous. Step outside, and cover up right now. Stand up, and go, now.”
Rhodus said that the judge’s words, which she characterized as a “scolding,” caused distress and her son to cry.
“I was terrified; I never expected something like that,” Rhodus told the Washington Post. “It caught me completely off-guard. I couldn’t think straight to present my case properly. It was just — I was in shock.”
— Real Kids Real Moms (@RealMomsTalk) April 16, 2016
The judge was fine with a child in the courtroom, but would not tolerate public breastfeeding.
“To nurse the child in the courtroom is just absolutely inappropriate. Now step outside and button up, or whatever you need to do to button up. Are you going to be able to stay buttoned up?” the judge said.
Breastfeeding in public is legal under North Carolina law.
Rhodus said that her son had been breast-fed for 8 months, and won’t take the bottle, and that he cried through the rest of the court appearance.
The judge said in a statement that the courtroom had accommodations for women to breastfeed, but that during court proceedings, decorum had to be respected.
“When a case is called and a party is participating in a formal hearing before the court, all litigants are expected to respect the same rules of procedure, decorum and dress,” he said in a statement to the Post.
A breast-feeding advocate said that the judge’s actions could influence other women to not breast-feed, which would be unhealthy for infants.
— Corey Davis (@CoreyWYFF) April 14, 2016
“I think the child’s rights were negatively affected by that judges’s choice,” Valerie Vanderlip told the Citizen Times. “When young women, even fifth-grade girls, hear stories like this in the news, that could affect their decision whether to breast feed their baby, and breast feeding is the most important choice you can make.”
Rhodus was in court as a defendant against her mother, the infant’s grandmother.
Rhodus’s mother has custody of Rhodus’s 8-year old son, and was seeking a protective order so that Rhodus couldn’t see him for six months.