The backlash continues to grow over guidelines released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding alcohol consumption and pregnancy.
In the Vital Signs report, CDC officials advised women of child-bearing age to abstain from drinking any alcohol unless they are taking birth control.
The reaction was swift from women’s rights activists and others. It also spark a flood of comments on Twitter from women who felt the guidelines were paternalistic, at best.
“Very discouraging to see such sexist propaganda from CDC in this day and age,” wrote Andrea Skinner in her tweet.
Recommendations and Reactions
In the guidelines, CDC officials noted that half of pregnancies are unplanned in the United States.
They added that a woman may not know for as long as six weeks or more after conception that she is indeed pregnant.
They calculated that means that “more than 3 million U.S. women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy.”
“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” CDC Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat, said in a statement. “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?”
The guidelines are a step farther than recommendations the CDC released last fall urging pregnant women to abstain from alcohol, a policy supported by groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics.
However, telling women not to drink even if they aren’t pregnant struck a nerve and it didn’t take long for the reaction to pour in.
Many women said the advice was condescending in addition to being sexist. Some said that instead of telling women to abstain from alcohol, the CDC should make birth control more accessible. Others wondered why men weren’t advised on birth control at the same time.
In a column for Time magazine, contributing writer Darlena Cuhna called the CDC guidelines “a scare tactic masquerading as a health recommendation.”
“They are protecting a fetus that doesn’t exist,” Cuhna wrote. “They are talking down to women who have the right to privacy, the right to monitor their own health like adults and somewhat of a right to bodily autonomy (unless they’re pregnant) and taken those away in the name of an imaginary baby.”
On Twitter, a woman identified as Hannah wrote, “The CDC is acting as if women aren’t humans but rather just baby-making vessels.”
In a statement released to Healthline today, the CDC acknowledged the criticism but said the goal of the guidelines is to “offer women and their partners the necessary facts to make informed decisions based on their personal circumstances.”
The CDC stated that three out of four women who report they want to get pregnant as soon as possible continue to drink alcohol.
“Drinking alcohol during any stage of pregnancy can have many risks for women and their babies including fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) which are 100 percent preventable,” the CDC statement read.
Violence and Disease
Pregnancy wasn’t the only topic discussed in the CDC guidelines.
Violence and disease was also mentioned and this portion of the advisory might have angered women even more.
In an informational graphic, CDC officials said drinking alcohol can make a women more vulnerable to violence and sexually transmitted diseases because drinking can impair their decision-making abilities.
Critics quickly pointed out the CDC did not advise men that drinking could lead to violent behavior or contracting diseases.
“It is a blanket statement that stretches over a river of decisions that must be made by two people, not one,” wrote Cuhna. “Unless alcohol grows arms and attacks a woman, or grows genitals and has sex with her, alcohol does not beat or impregnate women. Men do.”
In its statement today, the CDC did not address this portion of the controversy.
Overall, women’s rights supporters said the one-two discriminatory punch from the CDC guidelines were outdated and insulting.
“It’s discriminatory, it blames victims, and it has no place on a governmental, science-based website that deals with health,” Cuhna wrote.