New CDC recommendations released Tuesday state that all women of childbearing age should abstain entirely from alcohol, unless they use contraceptives. Come again? On first reading, one might think that they are on to something. Everyone knows that drinking during pregnancy is bad. Well…the research is actually mixed. But, aside from attempting to address the real problem of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, which can have lasting impact on children, it makes a lot of bad assumptions about women, it’s unrealistic, and it might not be entirely evidence-based.
My first thought when reading the report was that this type of government recommendation sounds like something out of The Handmaid’s Tale. In Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, a theocratic dictatorship takes away women’s rights and separates them into classes. Fertile women of childbearing age are kept as handmaids for reproductive purposes by the ruling class after a large portion of the female population becomes sterile due to pollution and sexually transmitted diseases. They live under strict control of their wealthy male captors, and are treated as vessels for potential life.
While the U.S. government has not yet formalized restrictions on what I can and can’t do as a woman of childbearing age, this culture shift – viewing women as vessels for potential babies – scares me. I am an adult human. I am whole. I am not less important than my potential future unborn fetuses. To suggest that is offensive. I am not going to make a slippery slope argument, because I think we’ve already reached the bottom of the slope. Our culture doesn’t value women and girls.
It’s true – about 50% of pregnancies are unplanned – but it’s wrong to assume that women will continue with an unplanned pregnancy. It also assumes that a women has access to comprehensive sexuality education and contraceptives. And that it’s safe for her to take contraceptives. And that she wants to. And that they will work for her. I LOVE contraceptives, but they aren’t for everyone, nor should someone be shamed into using something to control her fertility. The alternative is completely unrealistic and unfair. No alcohol for 30+ years.
I thought the report was bad enough without this sexist, disgusting infographic.
Did you know that alcohol puts all women at risk for sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy? Why? Because they make stupid choices about sex when they are drinking? Wouldn’t the same be true for men? Or do you only care about women, because of their role as incubators?
And is a complete prohibition on alcohol use during pregnancy even warranted? In 2012 BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology published five papers resulting from the CDC funded Lifestyle During Pregnancy Study. The results? No serious effects on neurodevelopmental functions in five-year-old children whose mothers drank low to moderate amounts of alcohol in pregnancy. I know, I was surprised, too.
It all comes down to trust. Can public health professionals trust that women, when provided with information about risk, will make healthy choices? It seems that our society has reached a point when the answer to that question is no.
Featured Image Credit: Stephen Train