Andrew Kaczynski of BuzzFeed has unearthed a 2006 political battle involving then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the state Department of Public Health, and vocal advocacy groups that you don’t see everyday.
A battle involving a group that then Romney spokesman and current campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom dubbed “a very vocal minority of breast-feeding advocates.”
In 2006, Romney urged the Massachusetts Department of Public Heath to reconsider a decision that would have made Massachusetts the first state to ban gift bags to new mothers leaving the maternity ward that included infant formula, coupons, and other presents paid for by the formula companies.
The Department of Public Health had previously made the decision to strike down the gift bags for the belief that the giveaways encourage mothers to give up on breast-feeding, which several medical studies show lead to babies less-likely to suffer from several illnesses and ailments in comparison to bottle-fed babies.
”We’re not disputing the health benefits of breast-feeding, but we think that new mothers should make that choice,” Fehrnstrom said at the time. ”If they choose to bottle-feed, they should be supported in that decision.”
Kaczynski discovered that as the debate went on, Romney took a firmer anti-big government stance on the state attempting to influence the decision of mothers on how to best feed their babies.
“I’m not enthusiastic about the heavy arm of government coming in and saying, ‘We think we know better than the mothers and we are going to decide that they can’t get free formula when it comes as a welcome home kit from the suppliers of formula with Q-tips, baby lotion and so forth,’ ” ABC reported in 2006 Romney said on the issue. “Let’s let the moms decide.”
The administration would face challenges to their stance on the issue, as a coalition formed against Romney, running ads, and circulating a petition. Critics argued that the governor was giving in to corporate interests looking to market their product to consumers on day 1, literally.
As many hospitals began to do away with the gift bags on their own, the Romney Administration argued that the issue had become overblown thanks to a small number of vocal critics.
“No one is seeking to end those practices,” Fehrnstrom said as discussion around the issue persisted. “Yet there is a very vocal minority of breast-feeding advocates who want to take a punitive approach with mothers who choose formula.”
Eventually, Romney was able to direct the state’s public health commissioner to overturn the all-out ban on formula giveaways, but many prominent Massachusetts hospitals still prohibit the gift bags.
In December 2011, Rhode Island became the first state to ban the gift bags.