The controversy surrounding breastfeeding women is nothing new, but North Carolina mother Stephanie Rhodus says she was shocked when a judge ordered her out of the courtroom when she tried to breastfeed her son during a custody hearing earlier this week.
Breastfeeding in court is a perfectly legal activity, but that did not stop Judge Peter Knight from demanding that 25-year-old mother Stephanie Rhodus leave the Henderson County courtroom after she attempted to breastfeed her 8-month-old son Archer while fighting for custody of the eldest of her three children on Monday. While kicking her out and insisting that she cover up, he called her feeding her child in his courtroom “absolutely ridiculous.”
An audiotape of the incident was obtained by ABC News affiliate WLOS, and in their coverage of the incident the media outlet spoke to the mother, who said that she felt utterly humiliated and scared of the consequences Judge Knight’s offence at her breastfeeding would have for her case.
“I was shocked. He was so condescending and so aggressive, and I knew that by law I had the right to breastfeed my child there, and I wanted to declare that I had the right to do that there, but I was terrified.”
The mother mentioned that while the judge did not seem to mind the presence of the child, he took great issue with the fact that she was feeding him in the court without covering up. However, Stephanie says that her son does not like to be breastfed under a blanket and simply will not tolerate his face being covered, and so she does her best not to have to subject him to it. In fact she mentioned that on a previous court appearance, when she had a female judge and had to breastfeed, there was no issue in the court.
NBC attempted to contact Judge Knight but he declined to comment about his admonishment of the mother regarding an act that is legal in the state of North Carolina, under a statute which covers indecent exposure.
“I’m fine with having a child (in his courtroom) if you don’t have other arrangements made; that’s certainly going to happen, but 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 public breastfeeding law in North Carolina states that a woman may breastfeed in any public or private location, including a courtroom, and the protection is extended to include women who do not choose to cover their breast.
Once the mother had stopped breastfeeding, her son’s cries followed throughout the proceedings. A member of a breastfeeding advocacy group says that it is her belief that the judge’s actions affected the rights of that hungry baby. It is an angle that she says is not often considered when people demand a mother to ignore her child’s biological need for food, despite so many arguing that breast milk is better than formula.
Judge Knight ruled against the mother in her court case and she believes that her breastfeeding affected this decision. The reason that Stephanie Rhodus was in court to begin with is that her mother filed a complaint against her to gain custody of her oldest son, and in the audiotape she can be heard attempting to argue that her mother nor investigators had any evidence against her. However, the judge threatened to hold her in contempt should she keep speaking.
Rhodus says that she intends to appeal the judge’s decision and will indeed carry her son to the next hearing.
[Photo Courtesy of Rohappy/Shutterstock]