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Austin Coffee Shop Debacle Draws Attention to Public Breastfeeding Issue

Courtesy of the couple
A photo of James and Sandy Hughes taken Thursday. The couple hopes to let Austin know that they do, in fact, support breastfeeding mothers.

Stouthaus Coffee Pub in Sunset Valley faced major social media backlash this week when one of the owners asked a nursing mother to cover herself while dining with her friends Wednesday morning.

Afterwards, one of the women’s companions posted a one-star Yelp review of Stouthaus, calling out the owner Sandy Hughes for “shaming” her friend for breastfeeding.

The Yelp reviewer, Stephanie Scott, also posted a negative comment on Facebook, to which Stouthaus co-owner James Hughes replied. The response, which was apologetic yet explanatory, drew the ire of Facebook. Some called it mansplaining, and many said that they would not patronize the shop because of Hughes’ actions.

Screenshot of the facebook post by Stephanie Scott with a response from Stouthaus.

Sandy Hughes then took over damage control, posting numerous apologies like this one on the business’s Facebook page and pointing out that she was a mother of two who'd also breastfed. This prompted Scott to update her Yelp review, acknowledging the apology.

A Yelp review posted by a friend of the woman who was asked to cover up.

The woman who was approached, Amberly Worley, responded to Sandy Hughes' apology on Facebook yesterday, saying she was sorry for the social media storm.

A Facebook reply to Stouthaus from the mother who was asked to cover up.

By that time, some mothers in the area had organized a “nurse-in,” a protest of sorts, at Stouthaus on Saturday.

Stouthaus quickly vocalized its support for the event, offering participants free cupcakes and announcing that it would donate 10 percent of the proceeds it makes during the four-hour event to the Mothers’ Milk Bank in Austin. The organization accepts donated breast milk for infants in neonatal care. Stouthaus posted an open letter to the community on Facebook Thursday.

Robert Oller, a friend of the Hugheses, says that the couple was “surprised” by the nearly instantaneous online reactions from what is an active, vocal community of breastfeeding rights supporters.

“We have learned a lot from the groups that got so vocal over their concerns, and more than anything I think this is an opportunity for us to reach out,” he says.

Texas is a right-to-breastfeed state, meaning that women have the right to nurse children wherever they want. A bill filed in early February by House Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) would add even more protections to that right by imposing penalties – like paying up to $500 in a civil suit – for those who try to stop women from breastfeeding in a public place.

“The most important thing is that women feel comfortable and to be able to breastfeed, because it’s such a good thing for the kids and for the mother as well,” Farrar says.

She says that the bill’s language originally called for a larger penalty for violators, but the amount was negotiated down to $500. Farrar acknowledges that while legal protections are technically already in place for nursing mothers, the new bill would add some enforcement, as well as bring awareness to the issue.

As for the Hugheses and Stouthaus, Oller says that they are all about “community,” and they are hoping that the events that have transpired will be a positive experience. He calls it an “eye-opener,” and says the couple is glad to help shed light on "a real problem that women, and mothers, face."

An earlier version of this story said the penalty proposed in the new bill would be a $500 fine. In fact the bill proposes that someone who violates the law would face the possibility of paying up to $500 in civil penalties.