Sorry, CDC, but you can’t declare Prohibition on my womb!
The Centers for Disease Control just released a new recommendation stating that young (aka fertile!) women should avoid alcohol unless using birth control. That sound right there? Of a thousand shattering glasses? That’s the sound of women everywhere asking the CDC just what the heck they’re thinking.
I mean, I get it. I know why they said it. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a very real and very scary thing. A baby born with FAS will face a lifetime of challenging disabilities that could have been avoided. The CDC estimates that more than 3 million women are at risk for an “alcohol-exposed” pregnancy. They note that many women may not even realize they are pregnant and might continue to consume alcohol; so according to the CDC, the obvious solution is to just not drink.
This recommendation, however well-intentioned, just comes off as a bunch of paternalistic bs. I think it’s more than OK to educate the public about the risks of FAS. It’s also important to educate folks who are planning to have babies about these risks. But to take that next step and recommend that young women not drink? No, I’m sorry, but nobody is going to institute an era of Prohibition on my womb (and I’m not even a drinker!).
The CDC makes a few missteps here. The first one is assuming that all these millions of young women want to be pregnant or, if they find themselves accidentally pregnant, will want to go through with the pregnancy. While their main audience is people actively trying to get pregnant, they acknowledge in the report that many pregnancies are unplanned, so the undercurrent of “this recommendation is for everyone” is still there, whether intended or not. That assumption is a big one, and it basically assumes that all women are merely waiting around until they get knocked up, as if their one purpose in life is to procreate. Newsflash: Not every women wants to be a mother. Not every woman who gets pregnant will keep the pregnancy.
Second — and this feels like something I’ve said over and over and over again whenever these types of recommendations pop up — what about the men? How come there are no recommendations for men in these types of instances? Why does all the onus fall at the feet of women? Perhaps the CDC should instead say that if men want to have sex, they should always use a condom to prevent FAS in case the woman they are with is drinking.
Here’s the thing. Women are more than just vessels for pregnancy. They are also absolutely capable of informing themselves of the risks of drinking alcohol while fertile and off birth control. There is no need to throw out a recommendation that will only add to the fear and oftentimes over-stringency that occurs during pregnancy. It’s also frustrating when even the experts can’t agree, as other countries have less-stringent guidelines when it comes to what women should or shouldn’t ingest while pregnant.
So how about this? How about we trust women? I know it might be a hard concept to grasp for some folks. But why don’t we ensure that they have the information and knowledge, and then allow them to take it from there, instead of putting out recommendations that will lead to a host of shaming, fear and annoyances. Cheers, ladies! —Avital Norman Nathman