Shouldn’t We Be Encouraging Birth Control Instead of Telling Women Not to Drink?

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Photo: Brian Kennedy

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention incited ire by advising that fertile, sex-having women who don’t use contraception should stop drinking altogether. That’s because they might get pregnant at any moment, and the booze could lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) in their hypothetical babies. The report mentions that almost half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so, naturally, the most logical move was to tell women who are not using condoms, pills, patches, or rings to abstain from drinking — rather than encourage them to use contraception.

Of course, some women not using contraceptives are actively trying to get pregnant — but plenty are not. Now these women ostensibly have a responsibility to avoid alcohol to protect fetuses that don’t exist.

The CDC said Tuesday that more than 3.3 million women of childbearing age are “at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol,” based on a survey of 4,300 women ages 15 to 44 who were able to have children but were not pregnant at the time. A little more than 7 percent of those surveyed were considered at risk because they were drinking and not using birth control in the month before being polled — so, all told, that’s just 280 women — and it’s this percentage that was extrapolated to get 3.3 million. Of those women who were trying to get pregnant ASAP, three in four still consumed alcohol. Drinking during pregnancy is already a heated topic, and while experts agree that binge drinking is terrible for developing babies, many are divided about the effects of light or moderate drinking. (It’s not something that’s been studied extensively because of the ethical quandaries involved with figuring out what a “safe” upper limit of alcohol consumption is for pregnant women.)