By Stephanie Sampson
On Tuesday Feb. 2, the Center for Disease Control published a press release that suggested that all sexually active women of childbearing age should stop drinking alcohol if they’re not on birth control.
These guidelines are meant to prevent the 3.3 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 years that are at risk of exposing fetal alcohol syndrome to their babies.
This announcement has many women in America outraged. Katherine Mangu-Ward, the managing editor of the magazine of Reason, said that there is something profoundly creepy about a government agency officially telling women to forgo pleasurable or life-improving choices solely on the basis of their status as the theoretical mothers of the nation’s children. The CDC has not only offended women but they also created a lot of confusion. Elizabeth Dietz, a writer from the Bioethics Forum, asked “Is the CDC saying that even women who are not ready to have a baby should prepare for the possibility, if they are not using birth control perfectly (or it fails), of both becoming pregnant and deciding to keep the baby?” While the CDC’s intentions seem honorable, their message reinforces the idea that once again women are mere vessels for having children.
The graphic portrays that violence, STDs, and unintended pregnancies are risks for women drinking. While these are indeed risks for all people, drinking does not directly cause these repercussions. It also feeds into the idea that men have nothing to do with victim-blaming, blaming women who are abused or who have unprotected sex for drinking.
I feel that it is unjust for society to expect women who are not on birth control to not consume alcohol. It has been proven that alcohol affects male fertility as well as female. I haven’t heard of anyone telling fertile men not to drink alcohol unless they use a condom every time they have intercourse. Alcohol is toxic to the male reproductive system as well and can affect sperm quality and structure. After all, men tend to drink more than women do and are twice as likely to become an alcoholic. This increases the likelihood that men will contribute to more violence and the spread of STDs by drinking. But the CDC did not release this information; instead they released a graphic that is not about fetal health but the consequences of women that drink excessively.
The CDC guidelines promote the idea that it is only up to women to ensure the safety of children born out of unintended pregnancies. It takes two to conceive a child, but it only takes one to take precaution? Reading the CDC’s press release made me feel like I am not in control of my own body. It made me feel as if my only responsibility in life was to look out for the wellbeing of future children that don’t even exist. I am a responsible adult that enjoys a glass of wine once in a while, and I shouldn’t be punished for that. I don’t appreciate being told that I shouldn’t drink just because I am of childbearing age. The childbearing age range according to the CDC is between the ages of 15 and 44 years old and they honestly expect women to not drink alcohol the majority of their life.
I am twenty-two years old and while I do want to have children some day with my husband, it is nobody’s business whether or not we drink or what kind of birth control we use until that day comes. I am completely capable of making a decision about my health and other women in other circumstances are completely able to decide what is best for them. I am just getting tired of waiting for the day that we, as a society, stop trying to control women’s bodies and sexuality. Women are constantly shamed for their bodies and are ridiculed in ways that men are not.