You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.—Hillary Clinton
Yep, I’m going there. While I, myself, can never bear children (for which I am intensely thankful), most of my favorite people in the world can, and many have. That factor is naturally limiting to some degree I suppose. Scheduling get-togethers can be a nightmare when one has children. Budgets are strained when one has children. Fatigue is often a factor when one has children, as is stress and worry. However, at no point would I, or any other sane person, suggest that women should limit their activity in any way, shape or form simply because they have, or might have at some point down the line, a child. Yet, that is exactly what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) just did.
The assessment comes in Vital Signs, the CDC’s monthly health report and to say it is insulting to women is putting it mildly. Even the CDC’s press release is offensive when, right off the bat, it states: “Sexually active women who stop using birth control should stop drinking alcohol, but most keep drinking.” Yes, you read that correctly. It is the CDC’s opinion that, should you have any ability to have children, then you should either be on birth control or not drink. Ever.
What many women find especially offensive, and I wholeheartedly support their outrage, is this infographic the CDC released with the report:
Now, let’s be totally fair before we go off flaming the entire report. Yes, fetal alcohol syndrome is a totally preventable problem and yes, women who continue drinking heavily during the first 4-6 weeks of pregnancy, when not everyone knows they’re pregnant, is a problem. And yes, if one is intentionally trying to get pregnant, then abstaining from alcohol is just one of a very long list of adjustments one makes. Those portions of the report are based upon real science and are backed with several years of empirical scientific evidence.
However, not all the statements in the report are weighted equally. Much of the information related to women who are not pregnant is a derivation of data collected by the National Survey of Family Growth. Surveys, while useful for studies of social behavior at a given point in time, are not science. They can be flawed in hundreds of different ways from the type of questions asked, to the tone of voice used by the person asking, to how participants are chosen. Under no circumstances should the results of such surveys ever be considered anything more than opinion, not fact. Yet, that is exactly the error the CDC has made. As a result, they come up with some really offensive and scientifically unsupportable statements.
I’m running almost 48 hours late with my response here. What angers me is the inference that women who drink are sexually irresponsible. Such an attitude feeds directly into the infuriating rape culture which we screamed about yesterday. Anyone who takes advantage of a woman who is drunk or otherwise impaired is committing rape. Women who are drunk cannot give informed consent for sex and should, therefore, be left alone! To blame women for pregnancy or the transmission of disease during the course of a rape is wholly and unapologetically immoral ! Way to blame the victim, CDC.
Understandably, condemnation of the report, and especially that damn infographic, has been swift and severe. Here are a few you might want to read:
- Alexandra Petri for The Washington Post
- Mary Elizabeth Williams for Salon
- Olga Khazan and Julie Beck for The Atlantic
- Alex Zielinski for Think Progress
- Jia Tolentino for Jezebel
- Ruth Graham for Slate
Yes, we understand what the CDC is trying to do in eliminating any chance of fetal alcohol syndrome. But so much of what they are recommending in this report actually relies not merely on abstinence from alcohol, but regular medical screenings and readily available birth control, something the US Congress has repeatedly attempted to make impossible by defunding Planned Parenthood. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways folks. If you want healthy babies, you have to fund health care for mommies, especially those at greatest risk.
We should also mention that women who might be planning to become pregnant are already concerned about the Zika virus, which is still new but poses a potentially greater threat. Can we expect the CDC to also suggest that women who don’t use bug spray are equally irresponsible?
Fetal alcohol syndrome is a problem, we get that, but I would challenge that victim blaming and perpetuation of the rape culture is an even larger problem that affects the health of both women and children far more substantially than does drinking alcohol. Blaming women for rape and sexual assault, which this report inherently does, is inexcusable. Shape up, CDC. Use science and abandon the good ol’ boy mentality that is dangerous to women.