Alcohol Abuse: Is Policing Pregnant Women the Answer?

New research out of Cambridge University suggests that a majority of pregnant women continue drinking during their pregnancies, some to the extent of engaging in dangerous binge drinking that could damage the health of their babies. The research has been ‘concerning’ to some advocates who now propose policing pregnant women to make sure their drinking habits do not endanger their babies. However, is policing women the right answer?

Researchers discovered that three-quarters of pregnant women continued drinking throughout their pregnancies. A third of them engage in binge drinking, which is defined as consuming more than six units of alcohol in a single session. While all alcohol consumption is considered risky for babies in the womb, the real potential for birth defects and long-term health problems is related to binge drinking.

The study of 18,000 women also concluded that the biggest problem in this part of the world lies in Ireland. Researchers queried women in Ireland, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia. Only in Australia were there more women who said they stopped drinking term pregnancy than those who did not.

Risks of Alcohol during Pregnancy

There is little doubt within the scientific community that alcohol affects the baby in the womb. Furthermore, the medical community generally agrees that excessive alcohol consumption can be dangerous to the health of an unborn baby. The debate arises when the topic of testing women comes into play. Testing is risky due to concerns about invasion of privacy and the implied presumption of guilt that comes along with it.

Those who do not favour testing make a legitimate case. For example, a woman may not know she is pregnant during the first several months of her pregnancy. During that time, she may engage in binge drinking on multiple occasions. Nevertheless, the research shows that rates of binge drinking decline sharply among those same women once they know they are pregnant. They are clearly taking steps to promote the well-being of their babies by curtailing their behaviour.

Proponents of testing cite some disturbing cases in which alcohol consumption has had devastating effects. One such case that ended last year cleared a mother of criminal conduct despite the fact that her drinking during pregnancy resulted in permanent disabilities for her child. Those who favour testing believe it is a necessary intrusion to protect the health of the most vulnerable members of society.

A Greater Question to Be Asked

It would be foolish for society to ignore the potential threat alcohol consumption poses to unborn babies. Nonetheless, it would be equally foolish to believe mandatory testing of women, and we assume subsequent prosecution where necessary, would magically make problems go away. There is a greater question that must be asked – and answered – going well beyond just the issue of alcohol consumption and pregnancy. That question is – are the overall attitudes toward alcohol in Western culture acceptable?

Drug and alcohol rehab centres all over the world routinely accept clients struggling to overcome alcohol dependence. Any therapist or nurse at one of these facilities could tell you that alcohol is the most prevalent drug they deal with. Yet we treat alcohol as though it is barely indistinguishable from anything else we drink. And perhaps that is where the real problem lies.

Moderate alcohol consumption is not necessarily a bad thing for most people. However, far too many of our fellow citizens are going well beyond moderation to the detriment of themselves, their families, and society as a whole. Perhaps it is time we rethink our attitudes toward drinking.

Sources:

1. The Telegraph – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11721007/Pregnant-women-should-be-tested-for-alcohol-amid-binge-drinking-fears.html

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