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Hands off! Rubbing pregnant bellies might be illegal

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
November 6, 2013 -- Updated 2302 GMT (0702 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Reports say a man could have faced harassment charges after touching a woman's belly
  • CNN's Kelly Wallace says she was frustrated as many touched her belly while she was pregnant
  • Other mothers shared their stories of being the target of unwanted contact
  • Some moms said it comes with the territory, but others said it's harassment, plain and simple

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- It was my least favorite part of being pregnant, hands down: Family, friends, even strangers felt the need to pat, rub or touch my expanding belly without asking permission.

I cracked up every time. What is it about a pregnant woman's belly that makes the common sense rules of personal space fly out the window?

A bother? Yes. A pet peeve? Sure. But an illegal offense? I am wondering if we're taking things a bit far.

In Pennsylvania, there were rumors that a person could be charged for doing what a good number of people did to me and do to countless other moms-to-be. A Cumberland County man reportedly faced possible harassment charges after touching the belly of a pregnant woman -- a woman he did not know, according to attorney Phil DiLucente, who is not directly connected with the case but is familiar with the reporting about it.

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"There was a woman who was pregnant and (a) man had touched her belly area, which women have to go through all the time, and she didn't permit him to do that, and then he repeated it, so she decided to file charges," DiLucente said. (The Cumberland County district attorney has not returned our call.)

"Any time you harass, annoy, alarm another and there's touching involved without consent, someone can be charged with harassment," the Pittsburgh-based attorney said. He added that all states have similar harassment laws on the books, although he knows of no other case where the the law was applied to unwanted pregnant belly touching.

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DiLucente said he was "surprised" by the harassment charge, because what was previously considered acceptable behavior is no longer being tolerated, at least by one expecting mother.

She's doing what at 8 months pregnant?

From Twitter to Facebook to e-mail, I found there was no shortage of opinion about whether it should be illegal to touch a woman's pregnant belly without asking.

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Jennifer Bosse, a mother of two and host of the blog Defining My Happy, said it's a "really tricky" question.

"Elderly grandmother that exclaims excitedly and touches your belly for the briefest of moments? Maybe mildly annoying but not a crime. Scary woman or man that grabs at your belly and continues to jiggle you around long after the first no? Crime," Bosse wrote in an e-mail.

Dani Mathes said on CNN's Facebook page, "Annoying? Sure. Illegal? Heck no. We can't have laws for everything. We already complain about having so many laws for minor crap."

"If he doesn't know her well, then he should not touch her," said the person behind the handle @lizturn585859 on Twitter, adding that although it shouldn't be illegal, it's still not a "good idea."

Beth Engelman, who has an elementary-school-age son and co-founded the site Mommy on a Shoestring, thinks people who ask intrusive questions or tell a pregnant woman what to do "are way worse" than people who pat pregnant women's bellies.

"It's not that I think it's OK to go up and pat a pregnant woman's belly, but I don't think it's harassment or should be illegal," said Engelman, a single mom in Chicago. "Having strangers pat your belly, predict what you are having, ask about names or give you unsolicited advice is part of the experience."

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On the other side are readers like Jordan Elizabeth who believe unwanted rubbing of a pregnant woman's belly should definitely be considered a crime.

"Would you think someone should be charged with harassment for wandering around rubbing the stomachs of non-pregnant people in public without their permission? Because I am fairly certain someone would eventually call the police -- or more likely simply hit them," she said on CNN Living's Facebook page.

"I fail to see what about a woman being pregnant suddenly makes her body in any way the property of society. It's inappropriate touching and that is harassment under most penal codes," she added.

Irene Issaias wrote on CNN's Facebook page, "Any unwanted physical contact is an assault and battery so yes it is and should be illegal if it is not consented to by the mother."

Carrie Courter, also on CNN's Facebook page, said, "If he had touched her breasts without her permission it would be a non story, as that is not allowed. Why is her belly any different?"

Said @MrNickCharles on Twitter, "As a former law enforcement officer, I always assumed unwanted touching of another is assault."

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While there may be a debate about whether unwanted pregnant belly rubbing should be against the law, there didn't seem to be any disagreement when it came to the act itself. Just stop doing it, folks, said many moms.

Andrea Kristina said that when people would put their hands out to pat her pregnant belly on the grocery store line, she would take a step back. "There is such a thing as 'personal space' and you wouldn't just walk up and touch every round thing that strikes your fancy otherwise, so why do that to a pregnant woman," Kristina posted on CNN Living's Facebook page. "It's creepy and rude."

Laura Weinberg Kovall is a mom of one who runs Fit4Mom in New York, which offers fitness classes of all levels to moms. She said she never understood the urge to reach out and touch a pregnant woman's belly.

"Would it be OK to randomly touch a nonpregnant woman's belly? Never," Weinberg Kovall said.

Diane Martin, also on CNN's Facebook page, said she was touched without her permission during both of her pregnancies.

"I got mouthy and pushed hands away," she said. "Before I gave birth in July, I had my own personal bodyguard. My 4-year-old son told people to not touch my tummy. 'Only me, my daddy and the doctor can touch my mommy's tummy!' "

Sounds like a solution to me!

Have you experienced people touching your belly while you were pregnant? How did you react? Tell us in the comments!

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter and like CNN Living on Facebook.

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