FARGO - When the North Dakota Legislature in 2009 enacted a law allowing breast-feeding in public, it did something that only one other state did - it specified the circumstances under which breast-feeding is allowed.
North Dakota allows breast-feeding in public if the woman "acts in a discreet and modest manner." The law, however, does not define "discreet" or "modest."
Since that time, breast-feeding advocates in the state have been fighting to have those two words removed from the state's law. Maureen Oakley, who wrote a book on breast-feeding, said that because of that language, North Dakota's law actually provides "less protection than no law at all."
The potential problems caused by the ambiguities in the law became clear on Saturday night, Jan. 13, when the owner of Fargo's new Chick-fil-A restaurant told a breast-feeding mother she had to cover her breast. When she wouldn't do it, she was told to leave.
In the view of the mother, she was abiding by the state's law. The actions of the franchise's owner suggest that she believed, at least at the time, that the woman was not.
Although the restaurant's owner has since apologized, the incident raises the question of what is actually allowed in North Dakota and whether women are protected in situations like the one a Fargo mom faced on Saturday night.
"Most states have no mention of 'modest' or 'discreet' - breast-feeding is legal in any place," said Jaci Kulish, a leader for the La Leche League of Fargo-Moorhead, a breast-feeding advocacy and training organization. "The law leaves it open to interpretation what is modest and discreet."
Minnesota law, in contrast, allows a mother to breast-feed in any location "irrespective of whether the nipple's breast is uncovered."
Macy Hornung, of Fargo, experienced firsthand the issues with the North Dakota law's interpretation when she and her husband, Casey, took their two children - Silas, 3, and Ziggy, 7 months - to a pre-opening event at the new Chick-fil-A near West Acres Shopping Center on Saturday night.
When they arrived at the restaurant, it was crowded. Hornung ordered a chicken sandwich, while her husband and son ordered chicken nuggets. They were nearly finished eating when her daughter decided she wanted to nurse.
"I figure it's a public place, but I have my rights behind me," Hornung said. "I have breast-fed all over Fargo-Moorhead without incident. I didn't even think about it."
Hornung says her daughter will not tolerate being covered by a blanket while nursing. She will claw her. She will flail around. Instead, Hornung positions her daughter's head so that it hides her breast from view. Hornung said no nipple was visible and that her daughter's head covered most of her breast.
"I wasn't showing as much as you see in a normal bathing suit," she said.
Hornung said Ziggy had been breast-feeding for about five minutes when the franchise owner, Kimberly Flamm, came to their table and told her she had to cover her breast. Hornung said she began to explain to Flamm that she was allowed by state law to breast-feed, but was interrupted.
According to Hornung, Flamm then told her she had to cover her breast or leave.
"It was a very short encounter, but it was very cross and rude," Hornung said. "It wasn't nice at all. It was confrontational."
Hornung and her family left the restaurant immediately, but she was angry. When she got home, she posted a negative review on the Facebook page of the Fargo Chick-fil-A and described what happened on her own Facebook page. Her story quickly spread on social media.
The incident spurred a social media firestorm. Hundreds of people have posted critical reviews on the Fargo Chick-fil-A's Facebook page based on the incident. Many people also posted supportive messages on Hornung's Facebook page. They chastised the restaurant's owner and encouraged people to boycott the restaurant. But many others have attacked Hornung online, claiming her behavior was inappropriate, and defended the restaurant.
On Sunday, Flamm posted an apology on the restaurant's Facebook page.
"I would like to publicly apologize to Macy Hornung for the way I handled the situation on Saturday," she wrote. "I ask for your forgiveness on this matter as I learn from it. My goal is to provide a warm and welcoming environment for all my guests."
Flamm did not return phone calls on Monday. A Chick-fil-A spokesperson, Natalie Giddens, said, "Chick-fil-A encourages franchise owners to abide by state law."
Hornung thanked Flamm for her apology on the restaurant's Facebook page, but she said on Monday that she was disappointed by the restaurant's response. She said neither Flamm nor anybody else from Chick-fil-A had contacted her directly.
"I feel it was more of a media apology," she said. "I don't know how sincere it is. I was hoping she would at least respond to my comment, private message me or something, to initiate a conversation rather than just make a public apology. She hasn't responded at all."