Pregnancy and drinking – Examining the Evidence

Ellie Lee became involved in the debate about the risks of drinking while pregnant and her comments were recorded in the Guardian on February 6th of this year. The remarks were in response to a court hearing to decide on the rights of a child to receive compensation because their mother drank while pregnant.

It has been suggested that this could be the start of a process that could ultimately lead to criminalisation of this behaviour in expectant mothers. The case rests on providing convincing evidence that a pregnant mother’s caused criminal harm to her unborn baby. Ellie commented “It is remarkable that these approaches have gained such a hold. What has come to count is not evidence about the effects of drinking, but rather the absence of it. Since it is not known whether drinking certain amounts of alcohol in pregnancy is harmful, it is seen as better to act as though it might be. What is known is that there is an association between drinking a great deal and a specific set of birth defects, but since not all babies born to alcoholic women have these defects there is more to it than alcohol as a substance – for example, nutrition and general health.”

The debate continues with Guardian columnist Rebecca Schiller also quoting the work of Margaret Attwood, Elizabeth Armstrong, and Lynn Paltrow (founder of National Advocates for Pregnant Women) who said ““what is being criminalised is not just the ‘action’ or ‘behaviour’ it is the pregnancy as well. In other words – but for being pregnant – there would be no criminal or civil liability.” She added “So-called pro-life measures are being used in ways that not only violate women’s reproductive rights, but create the basis for depriving them of their constitutional personhood and human rights.”