A mother doesn't have much legal recourse if she's asked to stop breast-feeding in a public place — as Jessica Denny learned at a Berea McDonald's on Wednesday.
Kentucky's 2006 law that prohibits interfering with a breast-feeding woman doesn't carry any penalties.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
But it could form the basis of a lawsuit, said Lexington attorney Robert Abell.
Denny, who was asked to leave the McDonald's because she was breast-feeding, hasn't decided whether she will sue.
She says many people have been supportive since her story was told in Thursday's Herald-Leader.
The incident was the subject of talk-radio shows. And it generated a lively debate on the Herald-Leader's Kentucky.com Web site between readers who think breast-feeding shouldn't happen in public and those who think it should.
Denny said she has filed a complaint against the officer who responded to the McDonald's. The officer had threatened to charge Denny with criminal trespassing if she didn't leave.
The owner of the Glades Road McDonald's later issued a statement saying she deeply regretted the incident and would ensure it didn't happen again.
Berea Mayor Steven Connelly says the officer acted correctly.
Denny was no longer breast-feeding when the officer arrived, Connelly said Thursday.
“All that you had was a heated discussion,” Connelly said.
The officer's duty was to prevent the discussion from escalating, he said.
Officers cannot act on misdemeanors they do not witness, and interfering with breast-feeding is not even a misdemeanor, he said.
Kentucky and 38 other states have laws that protect nursing mothers. But very few have any penalties attached to them, said Jane Crouse, a spokeswoman for La Leche League International, a group that promotes breast-feeding.
Mothers who find themselves in the same situation as Denny should do what she did: Stand up for their rights and their babies' rights as law-abiding citizens, Crouse said.
The situations are not always as confrontational as the one at the Berea McDonald's, said Crouse, who hears from nursing women across the United States.
But women like Denny should do what they are comfortable with, she said.
When the Kentucky law was written, state Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, its main sponsor, didn't think penalties were necessary.
Buford now says fines may be appropriate to encourage businesses to comply with the law. He said, however, that he would take direction from breast-feeding advocates as to whether a penalty is needed.
“If we're going to improve the health quality of our children and the overall status of our children in Kentucky, we need to encourage more women to breast-feed,” he said. “It's not anything to be ashamed of.”