Bioethics Blogs

The CDC Recommends Women of Childbearing Age Use Contraception if They Wish to Drink Alcohol

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a recommendation that women of childbearing age should abstain from alcohol consumption unless they are on some form of contraception.

This is ethically problematic for several reasons, the first being the blatant and outright paternalism and mistrust of women.

The CDC Vital Signs report estimates that “3.3 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, sexually active, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy.” While the CDC’s intentions are good – attempting to curb incidents of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders – advocating a policy that does not respect women’s autonomy when it comes to making decisions regarding  consumption of alcohol and use of contraception is troubling.

These recommendations dictate that if a woman “could get pregnant” and drinks alcohol while not on some form of contraception, she is potentially harming a “developing baby.” In other words, in addition to having to take into consideration the wellbeing of a fetus when we are actually pregnant, we are now expected to also prioritize the health of a non-existent hypothetical fetus that may exist if we are between the ages of 15 and 44.

These guidelines also overlook the fact that habitual alcohol usage could also impact semen quality in men. Following the CDC’s logic, does this mean that all fertile men should also abstain from alcohol so as not to harm any potential future children created using subpar sperm?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.