With the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933, the United States enacted Repeal and abandoned its failed experiment with Prohibition. And that settled that, right? At least until this week:
Women of childbearing age should avoid alcohol unless they’re using contraception, federal health officials said Tuesday, in a move to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking.
And more (emphasis added):
Further, the report states that because half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, it’s risky for women to drink any amount at any time during which she may intentionally or unintentionally become pregnant.
Early reactions often involved shock (“incredibly condescending,” wrote the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri) and bewilderment at the seeming creation of a new class of women who were not to be trusted with making their own choices, namely the “pre-pregnant.” Rebecca Kukla, a professor at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, took issue with the dictate even as regards women who definitely are pregnant:
“We don’t tell pregnant women not to drive cars, even though we are much more certain that there’s a nonzero risk to their fetuses from each car ride than from each drink,” she said. “The ideal of zero risk is both impossible to meet and completely paralyzing to try to meet.”
Kukla argues that such guidelines are also excessively punishing. “The idea that the pleasures and routines that make up women’s days are mere luxuries that are not worth any risk whatsoever is patronizing and sexist,” she said. “And it would also turn their lives into complete hell if really taken to [its] conclusions.”
And yet I would have expected no less from a CDC headed by Thomas Frieden, formerly Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public health czar in New York City. Under Frieden, an arch-enemy of salt, sugar, and guns, the CDC to the detriment of its focus on communicable disease has involved itself in topics from playground safety to suburban housing sprawl; has boldly employed federal tax dollars toward lobbying for changes in law; has set itself against all evidence that e-cigarettes (“vaping”) can serve as vital harm reduction for persons who would otherwise smoke; and much, much more.
Beverage consumption for adult women, as for men, is best governed by a course of prudence and moderation. The best course of prudence and moderation for the federal CDC would be a future without Thomas Frieden.