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Let’s Put Breasts Before Tests: LSAC Refuses to Accommodate Breastfeeding During the LSAT

By Rachel Donahoe, Student Writer for The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice

If you’re breastfeeding (or planning on breastfeeding) and want to apply to law school, the LSAC (Law School Admissions Council) has made it even tougher for you to sit through the already grueling LSAT exam.

An ACLU blog reports that LSAC refused to grant a breastfeeding woman additional break time in order to pump breast milk for her five-month old baby during her October LSAT. It takes about half an hour to pump breast milk and the LSAT only allows one 15-minute break during the test.  The ACLU reports that the LSAC informed her that the options were to “take the test under standard procedure, wean her baby in time for the October 1 test date, or opt to take the test at a later time when she was no longer breastfeeding.”

Women need to pump every two to three hours, and if she does not, she puts herself at risk for breast infection, pain, and reduction in milk supply. The pain (and potential embarrassment of leaking that occurs when women don’t pump often enough) would be highly distracting during the test. To tell her to take the test under a standard procedure could result in a lower score due to the pain and distraction, and would possibly harm her health because of a breast infection or reduction in milk supply.

The health benefits of breastfeeding for the mother and child contribute to both short term and long term health. According to the World Health Organization, a breastfed child receives important antibodies from the mother to fight infection during infancy. Adults who were breastfed typically have lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and have lower rates of obesity and type-2 diabetes. For the mother, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer later in life and helps her lose extra pregnancy weight. Suggesting that a mother wean the baby in time for the LSAT is unfair, as it clearly has a negative effect on the baby’s health. Asking a mother to sacrifice her child’s health in order to take the LSAT is absurd.

Many policies and laws (including the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)) include provisions that provide mandatory breaks for pumping to allow women to breastfeed in the workplace for the child’s first year of life. If employers (including law firms) must accommodate breastfeeding until the child is one year old, why shouldn’t the LSAT and other licensing tests have the same requirement?

Finally, the LSAT is only offered a few times a year. The WHO suggests that infants be fed exclusively breast milk for at least the first six months of life. Thus, suggesting that a mother take the test at a later time would potentially mean taking the test (and enrolling in law school) an entire year later. Further, there are no alternatives to the LSAT, as it is a mandatory requirement for law school. A policy that keeps women from taking the test at a certain time discriminates against those who make a healthy choice for themselves and their children.

While pregnancy and breastfeeding may not be considered a disability that qualifies for accommodation under current discrimination laws, PPACA reflects Congress’s intention to protect breastfeeding as an important part of our society’s health and to prevent discrimination in the workplace. LSAC, as an institution affiliated with legal education, should recognize the blatant discriminatory effect their policy has on women in the legal profession. And if they refuse, the legal community should challenge their policy so that women in the future are not forced to choose between a legal career and the health of their child.