“CDC Tells Fertile Women: Don’t Drink At All”

“Women of childbearing age should avoid alcohol unless they’re using contraception, federal health officials said Tuesday, in a move to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome.” [Liz Szabo/USA Today (“CDC: Young women should avoid alcohol unless using birth control”), Tracy Clark-Flory/Vocativ (with headline above)]

Rebecca Kukla, professor at the Kennedy School of Ethics, had the following comment, quoted in the Vocativ piece:

We don’t tell pregnant women not to drive cars, even though we are much more certain that there’s a nonzero risk to their fetuses from each car ride than from each drink. The ideal of zero risk is both impossible to meet and completely paralyzing to try to meet. The idea that the pleasures and routines that make up women’s days are mere luxuries that are not worth any risk whatsoever is patronizing and sexist, and it would also turn their lives into complete hell if really taken to its conclusion. It also imposes a much higher risk reduction bar on pregnant women than on parents of small children, for no apparent reason.

We have had numerous occasions over the years to remark on the direction in which Obama appointee Thomas Frieden has taken the Centers for Disease Control.

More: Alexandra Petri, Washington Post (CDC’s warning “incredibly condescending”).


  • The part of the chart that bothered me the most is the part of the poster advising women of the dangers of alcohol in general, like cancer, violence and heart disease. No poster for men’s drinking habits I presume, and the fact that it would affect their health and make them more likely to engage in violence or rape.

  • Sounds like a great idea, especially for college students. With OTC birth control and sales of spirits, wines and beer, WalGreens may be this generation’s hook up place. After the Dear Colleague letters, and Rolling Stone and Gang of 88 outrage at frat parties, students need to identify off campus places. Animal House 2, The Next Generation, can be filmed in the Nutritional Supplements aisle.

  • Better advice might be “drink in moderation and eat your nutrients.” as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (and its lesser cousin, Fetal Alcohol Effect) might result from alcohol’s depletion of key nutrients, esp Vit A, folate, and choline.

    e.g. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22285196

    …a study by Thomas et al. in 2009 found that nutritional supplementation with choline in rats exposed to ethanol in utero almost completely mitigated the degenerative effects of ethanol on development and behaviour

    Be nice if research funds were devoted less to garbage studies of all kinds and more to work in areas such as this.

  • The Slate article is very misleading. There is a serious risk associated with drinking while pregnant.

  • For cruelty and stupidity, this is negligible compared to the call by the Colombian and El Salvador governments for women to abstain from sex until Zika is defeated. A more reasonable suggestion would be to use birth control, but birth control is systematically obstructed by conservative Catholic politicians in these countries.

  • This sounds like that thing where OSHA said that kids should wear helmets when mowing the lawn. You ask a bureaucrat “how can I be safe”, and they’re gonna tell you; if it seems extreme, well, you aren’t asking “how can I be sort-of safe but still comfortable without actually doing a whole lot”, you’re just asking “how can I be safe”. Be more specific…or maybe just don’t ask.

  • My understanding is that the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome is greatest if alcohol is consumed during the part of gestation in which the brain is being most actively developed. While the brain exists during the first few weeks of pregnancy, that is not the most critical time for brain development. If a woman who drinks regularly becomes pregnant, and doesn’t find out until she has been pregnant for a few weeks, and then immediately stops drinking until after the child is born, my understanding is that the risks of fetal alcohol syndrome are very small, especially if her drinking habits were moderate before she learned of the pregnancy. And it is this scenario that the CDC is using to tell women who may become pregnant to not drink at all.
    Of course, even if you don’t ever voluntarily have sex, you could always be raped – so you could become pregnant. Also, few forms of birth control are completely effective. I remember seeing a study about how effective birth control is under more real world situations, where people sometimes forget to take their pill for the day, or otherwise behave as human beings who aren’t under the vigilance of nurses assigned to a clinical trial. So, even if you are on birth control, if you are a woman who has sex, you may become pregnant. Every woman between menarche and menopause could become pregnant!
    That said, I know some of you will feel really indignant about this, but if you are a woman and you know that you are pregnant, don’t drink until after the child is born. I met a child who has fetal alcohol syndrome, and believe me, being a life time ward of the state might be one of the better outcomes for her.