The ACLU of Rhode Island and five other organizations are urging the Rhode Island Board of Bar Examiners to provide accommodations to breastfeeding women taking the Bar exam. The Board’s current accommodation policies, the groups say, leave individuals who are breastfeeding “at a serious disadvantage during the test.”

In a letter to the editor of Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly published today, the ACLU of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association, League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, and Rhode Island NOW, said they had written the Board and urged it to adopt a policy that explicitly extends eligibility for accommodations to those who are breastfeeding, and to modify its procedures accordingly. Currently, Board policy limits accommodations to only those with ADA-eligible disabilities.

“Candidates who need accommodations related to breastfeeding should not be forced to choose between taking the test under conditions that may place their health at risk and postponing their test date until they are no longer breastfeeding,” the letter to the editor stated.  “Placing women in this position would fly in the face of public policy, pose a barrier to women who wish to enter the legal profession, and send the message that being a mother is incompatible with entering a career in the law.”

The organizations noted that Bar Exam rules restrict what test takers may bring into the test site and regulate exam breaks. The groups recommended accommodations such as allowing women to bring necessary medical equipment and supplies to the test, providing additional break time to express breast milk, or other accommodations an individual may need to ensure women do not suffer any medical issues.

The ACLU and these groups sent a number of letters to the Board over the course of four months and were recently apprised by the Board that the Rhode Island Supreme Court is reviewing the issue.

The Board was first contacted about their accommodation policies when the ACLU and Law Students for Reproductive Justice conducted a survey to examine the accommodation policies and practices in place across the country for individuals who are breastfeeding. The survey found that all other New England states and many others already provide accommodations for women who are breastfeeding at the time of their Bar exam.

The groups stated that they hope new reforms will be implemented expeditiously to bring Rhode Island in line with other states.

“Even if there is only a slim possibility that an applicant needing breastfeeding accommodations will be applying for the next Bar exam in February, we believe it is critical that this issue be addressed before another exam period goes by,” the groups stated in the letter.

Correspondence between advocates and the RI Board of Bar Examiners: