Breast-Feeding While Driving Mom Charged

June 25, 2003 -- A young mother charged with child endangerment for breast-feeding her baby while driving on the Ohio Turnpike contends that according to the letter of the law, her actions were legal.

Catherine Donkers, 29, of Pittsburgh was arrested on May 8 and charged with obstruction of official business, driving under suspension, failure to have her child in a safety seat, failure to comply and child endangerment.

Donkers said she didn't have time to pull over for a feeding.

"That particular day I did have to be somewhere," Donkers told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "I was planning on going to a seminar on Friday morning. I had to get to Michigan that evening," she said.

Donkers said she was wearing a seatbelt, and her 7-month-old daughter was on her lap, on a nursing pillow.

Ignored Lights and Siren

Lt. Rick Fambo, a spokesperson for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said Donkers was spotted by a state trooper after police received a tip from a motorist on a CB radio who saw her driving with a baby in her lap.

"The trooper observed the vehicle approaching that matched the vehicle reported," Fambo said. "He observed it was speeding and the trooper did follow the vehicle. He attempted to initiate a traffic stop," he said.

Donkers did not respond to the police car's lights or siren, but she slowed to 45 mph, and then motioned that she would pull over, Fambo said. "It took approximately 3 miles for the driver to come to a stop," he said.

Donkers said she didn't pull over because she knew that she was legally within her rights to be breast-feeding, and her car was on cruise control at 65 mph. Donkers also said in a court document that she was afraid because she had been sexually assaulted in the past.

"I didn't feel safe pulling over on the side of the road," Donkers said. "I have twice been sexually assaulted before and my husband has directed me that when I don't feel safe on the highway to go to a safe place where I'm reasonably sure that there might be some witnesses," she said.

Just Common Sense?

Donkers' husband, Brad Barnhill, 46, has said that his religious beliefs put him in charge of his wife's actions and he wants her name cleared. Barnhill, who says his faith is rooted in The First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty, claims his wife researched the Michigan state law before she began breast-feeding while driving, and found that it was legal

The law states that children under 4 years of age should be in seats, unless the mother is nursing. Donkers claims she did nothing wrong because Michigan has an exemption to its child restraint law for nursing mothers and because Ohio respects the laws of visiting residents

"With my experience in reading a lot of law, I would think that if the legislators intended for it to specifically exclude drivers, they would have said so in the statute," Donkers said.

Donkers could have had the original police charges, driving without a license, obstructing official business and violating the child safety-seat law, reduced to a single guilty plea to driving under suspension, according to court records. She then could have closedher case by posting a $100 fine. Donkers is scheduled to go on trial the first week in August.