A recent jarring CDC headline reads: “More than 3 million US women at risk for alcohol-exposed pregnancy.” Such extreme negligence sounds impossible in the modern era — this seems like a high number of women to be at risk. Some might just assume is due to the lack of sex education in certain regions of the country. However, a further reading of the study shows that the CDC simply considers potential mothers to be any woman who is physically capable of bearing a child and completely disregards the intentions of those women.
Shockingly, this press release is not concerned with already pregnant women or trying mothers-to-be in any manner. It is condemning alcohol consumption for any woman who is sexually active without contraception, arguing that women should not be drinking unless they have obtained birth control.
CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat explained the thought process behind the report: “Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant. About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking. The risk is real. Why take the chance?”
If “Why take the chance?” is the new motto of modern medicine, there might be a couple additionally pressing issues Schuchat should tackle. Smoking can most certainly harm fetal development, but the recommendation is not extended to potential mothers buying cigarettes. Until they have proven that they are using a reputable birth control or are past menopause, it seems that it would be logical to ban them from smoking. Some women might contract skin cancer from sun exposure, and cancer can permanently harm a developing baby before a women knows she is pregnant. The logical extreme would be to simply require women to stay inside while the sun is out. And as Schuchat said, “The risk is real. Why take the chance?”
The CDC’s declaration puts the rights of a fetus that might not even exist before the rights of women everywhere. Perhaps if we served every shot with a complementary pregnancy test, or had a candy bowl full of Plan B next to the coat check, the CDC might feel more at ease. But we live in a nation in which the Supreme Court recently ruled that women can be denied birth control coverage based on the beliefs of their employer. What certainly should be a universal right is still hotly contested, and until that issue is solved other personal freedoms should not be contingent on something as individualistic as birth control use.
This article initially appeared here in Washington Square News.