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Telling pregnant women to avoid alcohol completely is more ‘sexist than benign,’ experts warn

May 19, 2017

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), a maternal rights campaign group, has criticized new guidelines issued by the NHS in 2016 that say women should completely avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Such claims, the group argues, are alarmist — and may even prompt some expecting mothers to seek abortions out of fear that they had irreparably damaged their child.

The revised guidelines came after the U.K.’s first in-depth review of the evidence on drinking during pregnancy since 2008. The review concluded that “definitive evidence, particularly on the effects on low-level consumption [on a baby’s health] remain elusive” but that “the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all.” Previously, pregnant women had been recommended to restrict themselves to one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week.

“We need to think hard about how risk is communicated to women on issues relating to pregnancy. There can be real consequences to overstating evidence or implying certainty when there isn’t any,” said Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at BPAS. “Doing so can cause women needless anxiety and alarm, sometimes to the point that they consider ending an unplanned but not unwanted pregnancy because of fears they have caused irreparable harm.”

Ellie Lee, director of Kent University’s center for parenting culture studies, added that the new guidelines risked socially isolating or even stigmatizing pregnant women.

“As proving ‘complete safety’ [of drinking in pregnancy] is entirely impossible, where does this leave pregnant women?” asked Lee. “The scrutiny and oversight of their behavior the official approach invites is not benign. It creates anxiety and impairs ordinary social interaction. And the exclusion of women from an ordinary activity on the basis of ‘precaution’ can more properly be called sexist than benign.”

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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