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Bill seeks to criminalize female toplessness in N.H.

Last modified: 12/10/2015 3:00:16 AM
After a summer of Free the Nipple activism in New Hampshire, a group of Lakes Region lawmakers are proposing to make it illegal for women to show their breasts in public in a way that would offend or alarm a reasonable person.

Sponsored by Republicans from Gilford, Sanbornton, Winnisquam and Merrimack, House Bill 1525 would amend the state’s indecent exposure and lewdness law, punishable by a misdemeanor. It prohibits exposing the genitals, having sex “or any other act of gross lewdness . . . likely to cause affront or alarm.”

New language would criminalize when a person exposes his or her anus, or, for a woman specifically, who “purposely exposes the areola or nipple of her breast or breasts in a public place and in the presence of another person with reckless disregard for whether a reasonable person would be offended or alarmed by such act.”

The bill does not apply to breast-feeding. There is currently no state law against toplessness.

The proposal comes amid scrutiny of municipal-level laws prohibiting toplessness. Heidi Lilley of Gilford was one of a group of protesters affiliated with the national Free the Nipple campaign that targeted those laws in the summer. The campaign seeks for women to be allowed to expose their upper bodies in public the same way men can.

Lilley was ticketed by Gilford police for her toplessness in early September on a town beach there and will fight her $25 citation in court this month, asserting that it’s unconstitutional discrimination based on sex. She previously said an “irate” mother at the beach called the police on her and she asked for the ticket.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Brian Gallagher of Sanbornton, told the Laconia Daily Sun that municipal-level laws prohibiting toplessness may not stand legally without a state-level law because cities and towns have only the authority granted to them by state law.

Gallagher said the proposed wording is based on an existing law in Arizona, the Daily Sun reported. Some activists contend that’s unconstitutional, too.

“You may also notice similarities in the wording of this bill with laws of other states. Let me assure you there is growing movement intending to fight and take down those laws too,” reads a form letter for lawmakers circulated on the local Free the Nipple activists’ Facebook page.


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