CHICAGO—In a continued effort to expand rights for new mothers, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation that will allow nursing mothers to be automatically exempt from jury duty if they request it. Previously, judges could excuse jurors on a case-by-case basis, but there were no automatic exemptions. Last year, the governor signed the Right to Breastfeed Act, which allows women to nurse in both public and private places without fear of being asked to leave.
“Jury duty is an important part of being an American citizen, but when a woman is nursing, her privacy and comfort must come first,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “This new law will help keep nursing mothers and their children healthy and safe.”
Senate Bill 517, sponsored by Rep. Paul Froehlich (R- Schaumburg) and Sen. Don Harmon (D- Oak Park), will provide additional support to the 70 percent of Illinois women with infants who breastfeed their newborn infants and 34 percent who continue to breastfeed after six months.
“Breastfeeding is the best type of nourishment for young children, and we need to do everything we can to help women feel less hesitant about breastfeeding,” said First Lady Patti Blagojevich. “This new law is a major step in support of nursing mothers and their children.”
Breastfeeding is recognized as the optimal form of infant nutrition. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, breast milk is easy to digest and contains antibodies that can protect infants from bacterial and viral infections. Infants who aren’t breastfed will be more likely to develop asthma, allergies, and obesity in childhood. They are also likely to suffer more colds, flu, ear infections, and other respiratory illnesses.
“Permitting a nursing mother to excuse herself from jury duty is a common sense accommodation," said Sen. Harmon. "This legislation promotes the health of mothers and new babies, and I applaud the governor for signing it into law.”
Breastfeeding is also healthy for mothers, lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancers and possibly the risk of osteoporosis and hip fractures after menopause. Nursing also helps mothers bond with their infants, making them feel secure, warm and comforted.
Illinois is one of the leading states in enacting legislation to protect breastfeeding mothers. Prior legislation from 1995 excludes breastfeeding from being considered an act of public indecency and the Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act from 2001 requires employers to provide adequate space and time for mothers to breastfeed at work.
“I am very proud that Illinois is joining the other states that have enacted legislation that protects breastfeeding women when they are called for jury duty,” said Katy Lebbing, Manager of the Center for Breastfeeding Information at the La Leche League International Headquarters.
SB 517 is effective January 1, 2006.
Over the past two years, the Governor has worked with lawmakers to expand women’s access to contraceptives and other important health care services.
- Contraceptive Equity in Health Insurance Act: In July of 2003, the Governor signed the Contraceptive Equity in Health Insurance Act, which requires private health insurance companies that cover prescription drugs to also cover all FDA approved contraceptive drugs and devices.
- Contraceptive Coverage Awareness Campaign: In January 2005, the governor launched a coordinated effort to inform women that private insurance plans that cover outpatient drugs or services are now required to cover all FDA approved contraceptive services and prescriptions. Earlier this month, First Lady Patti Blagojevich launched a new website, www.contraceptives.illinois.gov, to help women learn how to have their birth control costs covered by their insurance companies.
- Providing health care to people who need it: Since Governor Blagojevich took office, 313,000 more men, women and children have received health care through the KidCare and FamilyCare programs – at a time when most states are not only not providing more coverage for the working poor, but also kicking people off of Medicaid or significantly reducing their benefits. This year’s budget included funding to add another 56,000 men, women and children. The Kaiser Foundation has ranked Illinois the best state in the nation for providing health care to people who need it. This summer, the state will lead a coordinated effort to enroll even more men, women in children in health care programs they need.
- Improving women’s health programs: Governor Blagojevich created the Illinois Healthy Women program to provide health care to women who otherwise would go without. To date, the program has served more than 100,000 women. In addition, Illinois has dramatically increased the number of mammograms and cervical cancer screenings since Governor Blagojevich took office. This July, the Governor will sign Senate Bill 12 requiring insurance companies to cover screening for breast cancer earlier in a woman’s life, Senate Bill 521 requiring ovarian cancer screening for women considered at-risk and Senate Bill 1 which creates a special instant win scratch-off lottery game called “Ticket for the Cure” to fund breast cancer research grants and services for breast cancer victims.
- First state to make Rx drugs from Europe and Canada available: Under Governor Blagojevich, Illinois became the first state to allow its citizens to purchase prescription drugs from Europe and Canada. More than 10,000 people have enrolled in the last few months alone to take advantage of lower prices (25-50% less) for over 120 name brand prescription drugs. Earlier this month, the First Lady also announced that seven leading contraceptives are now available through the state’s I-Save Rx program at discounts of as much as 79 % off the price currently charged at pharmacies in Illinois.
- Providing family planning and education: The Family Planning Program provides a range of medical services and education to more than 175,000 low-income women and adolescents of reproductive age.