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How Tammy Duckworth’s experience with breastfeeding and IVF guides her policy

October 6, 2020, 3:30 PM UTC

Hours before President Trump revealed his positive COVID-19 test, Congress sent a bill to his desk: the Friendly Airports for Mothers Improvement Act.

The legislation, championed by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, requires that nearly all U.S. airports include lactation rooms for nursing—and traveling—mothers. Duckworth first introduced a bill on this topic in 2015; it was signed into law two years ago, but applied only to medium and large airports. The new act would extend the same regulations to small airports, providing coverage for all mothers traveling domestically.

It’s a relatively under-the-radar bill, arriving not only amid unprecedented turmoil at the White House but at a time when air travel, its target, has all but ground to a halt.

“I was not going to stop working on this just because we have a global pandemic,” Duckworth said in an interview. “If we want economically to recover, people are going to start traveling again—and we have to include women as part of the economy.”

Duckworth was inspired to pursue the issue in part by her own experience as a new, working mother, traversing airports without access to an appropriate place in which to breastfeed or express breast milk.

Navigating access to public spaces—for herself and for her constituents—wasn’t new to Duckworth, who uses a wheelchair and was the first disabled woman elected to Congress. “You don’t think about these things until you’re faced with them—I didn’t think much about accessibility in airports until I was wounded,” she said. “I was not as aware of the issue of trying to breastfeed [until I encountered it].”

Duckworth also reflected on her own experience in making another political decision this week. The lawmaker, who conceived her daughters via in vitro fertilization, wrote a letter to her Senate colleagues arguing that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, would threaten Americans’ access to IVF were she to be confirmed as a Justice. The letter cites a 2006 newspaper ad signed by Coney Barrett and placed by a far-right anti-abortion group that opposes the procedure, which helps would-be parents conceive.

Writes Duckworth: “I urge you to fully consider the message a vote in favor of a Supreme Court nominee who appears to believe that my daughters shouldn’t even exist sends not only to me as a mother and as your colleague, but to parents-to-be around this country struggling with infertility.”

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