Et tu, CDC?

The CDC has a new message for women: stop drinking alcohol unless you’re on birth control.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are birth defects that can occur when women drink during pregnancy, and may include physical, psychosocial, and intellectual disabilities. There’s no disagreement in the health care community that FASD are a tragedy, all the worse because they are 100% preventable. However, the amount of alcohol consumption that is considered safe for pregnant women has long been the subject of (unresolved) debate, though most advice tends towards complete abstention.

This week, the CDC took this conversation in a new direction, initiating a FASD prevention campaign that implicates all women of childbearing age by claiming that 3 million women are at risk of injuring a baby because they are “drinking, having sex, and not using birth control”. As a strong supporter of their mission, I was dismayed to see the CDC join the long list of actors holding women individually responsible for public policy goals. To be clear, the concern about FASD is well founded, and women’s health behaviors are an important part of prevention. But the singular focus on women’s personal decisions without regard for the other factors driving alcohol consumption during pregnancy is disappointing from the nation’s leading public health agency.

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