Georgia Supreme Court rules in favor of breastfeeding consultant in economic freedom case

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The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled a lactation counselor in Atlanta can continue her fight to protect her right to teach women how to breastfeed in the state.

Justice Michael Boggs reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Mary Jackson and her nonprofit organization Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere.

Jackson’s attorneys said the decision is “a major victory for economic freedom.”

“The court made crystal clear that the Georgia Constitution protects the right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable restrictions, putting every government official in Georgia on notice that they must respect people’s rights to provide for themselves, particularly in these difficult economic times,” said Renée Flaherty, an attorney at the Institute of Justice, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to freedom rights.

Jackson, a lactation counselor at Grady Memorial Hospital, uses her nonprofit to educate families and medical professionals about breastfeeding. Jackson has dedicated her efforts to helping communities of color for more than 30 years. In July 2016, a law was enacted that would have required Jackson to get a new state board license to continue providing services.

Jackson’s attorneys were able to block the law from being enforced while the issue was litigated.

“Georgia has some of the worst rates of breastfeeding in the nation. The government should be encouraging us, not putting us out of the job,” Jackson said.

Jackson and her attorneys in 2018 sued Gov. Brian Kemp, while in his former role as secretary state; Lisa Durden, head of the licensing division; and members of the Lactation Consultant Advisory Group, which pushed for the implementation of the law.

The law, dubbed the Georgia Lactation Consultant Practice Act of 2016, would require Jackson and 800 other lactation specialists to complete and pay for “eight college-level health and science classes, six health-related continuing education courses, and at least 300 supervised and unpaid clinical hours, as well as pass an examination,” according to the lawsuit.

Jackson and the other lactation professionals already acquired a certified license that required a 45-hour course and an examination.

Institute for Justice attorneys argue the law violates the lactation consultants’ “equal protection and due process rights to earn an honest living in the career of their choosing, free from unreasonable governmental interference,” under Georgia’s Constitution.

“Women have been helping other women learn how to breastfeed for millennia,” attorney Jaimie Cavanaugh said. “The state cannot constitutionally require a license this onerous for an occupation this straightforward.”

A Fulton County Superior Court judge dismissed the case in 2019. Monday’s Georgia Supreme Court ruling gives Jackson at least another day in court.

The case returns to the Fulton County court to reconsider the state’s motion to dismiss.

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