US State Alcohol Laws

Although many don’t bother, there is no legal restriction on British women against enjoying a drink of wine occasionally during pregnancy.  However in the United States, this is certainly not as clear cut.  More than forty US states have laws and regulations around mothers to be drinking.  These range from criminal prosecution to mandatory rehab course for pregnant women caught drinking alcohol.

Now obviously exposing an unborn child to high levels of alcohol is harmful, it is proven that it can cause all sorts of health problems including disabilities.  However is it the role of the state to legislate what women can do when pregnant?  An interesting study recently highlighted a fact that states which strict laws against pregnancy and drinking also had very restrictive abortion laws too.

Of course the reality is that most women don;t drink when pregnant, so are these laws actually effective or indeed even required?   There has been virtually no studies on whether legislation actually affects drinking behaviour in pregnant women.   This is surprising considering the amount of studies and research which has been conducted on other alcohol related areas.

In some states the legislations are stricter than others, for example in 20 states pregnant women caught drinking can be liable for child abuse and in some actually face incarceration.    The stance definitely divides many people, even if the objective is shared.  Of course, most agree that drinking in pregnancy should be discouraged but the role of the state is more controversial.

Many organisations consider that drinking while pregnant should be a criminal offence and that this is essential in order to protect the rights of the unborn child.    Other sectors are concerned that these laws are merely a way for pro-life or religious groups to further control women’s choices and prevent options for them.  This seems to have some truth in it considering the legislation often passes onto abortion rights too.

There is no doubt that in the US alcohol disorders are a huge problems just like in many developed countries.   There are many innovative treatments that offer a solution including like this method based on a drug called Selincro and The Sinclair Method – referenced here – http://cipec.org/science/selincro-an-alcohol-wonder-drug – however these can be expensive and not always accessible to poorer members of society.

Many worry that legislation like this will act in the same way as criminal charges around drugs abuse – which are mainly ineffective.  It is very possible that threatening pregnant women who have alcohol issues with criminal charges will be detrimental to their and their baby’s health.  It is almost certain to deter women from seeking help or treatment if they have issues with alcohol during pregnancy.

Jason Williams

http://cipec.org/