My baby, my body, my breast, my choice.

Here’s what they saying in support of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s mandate to encourage breastfeeding by putting formula under lock and key:

  • Additional information can help the mother make a fully informed decision.
  • This plan does not change a woman’s ability to make her own choice.
  • This program is a victory for women and their newborn babies. We thank the Mayor for his work to ensure that women have all the facts.
  • Doctors know that breastfeeding is best for babies. Women considering how to feed their infants should be just as informed as doctors.

Wait a second. Did I just write that these comments were made in support of Bloomberg’s Latch on NYC program? Sorry, I got confused. These comments were made in support of the Virginia law that would have mandated vaginal ultrasounds as a condition for terminating a pregnancy. It’s not surprising that I confused the two since both are programs that are punitive, vindictive and actually designed to harass women who make the “wrong” choice.

I mentioned the deeply unfortunate similarities between the two plans during a round table conversation on HuffPost Live 321, the new video section of the Huffington Post. The subject under discussion was “Bloomberg Know Breast” and participants included Deborah Kaplan, MPH, R-PA, Assistant Commissioner of the NYC Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health. The video will be posted sometime today.

As I wrote last week, Bloomberg’s plan to lock up infant formula is completely indefensible.

How on earth could he imagine that treating infant formula like prescription medication is a remotely defensible use of government power? Perhaps he’s been spending too much time in lactivist-land, that fantastical alternate world where breastfeeding is easy, cost free and only undermined by imaginary social and cultural pressures.

But Ms. Kaplan was passionate in her defense of the program. I appreciate her sincerity and I don’t doubt for a moment her commitment to the health and well being of the newborns of New York City. Then again, I don’t doubt the commitment of the anti-abortion community to the well being of unborn babies. In both cases, people in positions of authority want to mandate what they think is best for babies. But in both cases, they grossly overstep the bounds of government authority and trample on the rights of women in the process.

And both groups offer the same defense of forcing women to jump through hoops to access something they already decided they wanted.

1. Additional information can help the mother make a fully informed decision.

Who could oppose additional information? The anti-abortion forces are entirely disingenuous when they insist that the information provided by a vaginal ultrasound will help women make an informed decision. There is not a single woman who isn’t aware that abortion prevents the eventual birth or a baby. The lactivists aren’t being disingenuous. They actually do believe that more women would breastfeed if they had additional information. The problem is that there is no evidence that additional information would improve breastfeeding rates. Lactivists simply prefer that explanation for bottle feeding instead of the real reason, that breastfeeding can be difficult, painful and very inconvenient.

2. This plan does not change a woman’s ability to make her own choice.

Ms. Kaplan was emphatic on this point, but her assurances are as hollow sounding as those of anti-abortion activists who insist that a mandatory vaginal ultrasound does not change a woman’s ability to make her own choice about terminating her pregnancy.

Here’s the problem that Ms. Kaplan refuses to acknowledge. Women who ask for formula have made their choice already. The Bloomberg plan deliberately puts obstacles in the path of women who have already made a choice in the exact same way that mandating vaginal ultrasound puts an obstacle in the path of women who have already decided on termination. In both cases, the government is intervening to pressure women into changing a decision into one that activists approve.

3. This program is a victory for women and their newborn babies.

The reality is that coercive programs like these are victories for activists, not for anyone else.

4. Doctors know that breastfeeding is best for babies. Women considering how to feed their infants should be just as informed as doctors.

This is just a variation on the information gambit. There is hardly a woman alive who is not aware that breastfeeding is considered best, so there is no demonstrable need for them to be informed of this fact every time they try to access formula.

The dangerous similarity between the rhetoric of anti-abortion activists and lactivists should serve as a wake up call to lactivists, to Ms. Kaplan and to the Mayor himself. Most lactivists recognize the tactics of anti-abortionists for what they are: indefensible hoops that women must jump through to access a choice they already made.

To the lactivists behind Mayor Bloomberg’s plan: “Pot meet kettle.”

You are doing exactly the same thing that anti-choice activists do: putting obstacles in the way of women who make choices different from yours. It is wrong for anti-choice activists and it is just as wrong for you.

addendum: I’ve created a Facebook page where we can let Mayor Bloomberg know how we feel.

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