MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 24-Feb-14 13:02:31

Guest post: If drinking in pregnancy becomes a crime, women's bodies will no longer be their own

A test case due to be heard at the Court of Appeal could criminalise a mother who drank heavily in pregnancy, and whose child was subsequently born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The case could set a precedent, and raises a number of issues relating to mothers' rights to autonomy over their own bodies, and when 'personhood' begins.

In this guest post, MN blogger Christina Franks shares her own experience of drinking while pregnant, and argues that criminalising those who do so to excess would be a futile and a dangerous step.

Do share your thoughts on the thread: did you drink during pregnancy? Is it time to change the law to protect unborn babies - or is women's autonomy over their own bodies more important?

Christina Franks

Raising Jonah

Posted on: Mon 24-Feb-14 13:02:31


Lead photo

Drinking in pregnancy - where do we draw the line?

Unless you are one of those rare women who unwittingly go into labour thinking they’ve a touch of indigestion, most women know pretty early on in pregnancy that their body is no longer their own.

I knew the aliens had landed well before the second line on the test went pink; my boobs were so sore that by early January I knew that Christmas day shag, pickled in Prosecco and sherry, had indeed made a baby. But this was my second child. I knew the signs by then.

With my first it was different. I was busy juggling London life, study, and a wonderful relationship with a solvent man; careless enough to forget my pill, though, while working like a demon in the month up to my journalism finals.

It’s a tale as old as time, and as common as a cold. And even though a tiny part of me knew I could be pregnant, like many students I’d been drinking like a fish. There was that night I went to a gig with my sister, and ended up in a gay bar in Soho; the surprise party for Tom where we got everyone pole-dancing before the night was done. The night we stayed up 'til dawn doing Christ knows what with Tom's banking colleagues. And even though I racked my brain going back over the dates to pinpoint exactly when it might have been that I conceived, it does little to alleviate my guilt.

I was upfront with the doctor who confirmed my pregnancy. He tried to alleviate my fears, telling me his own his wife didn't realise she was pregnant 'til five months gone. Other mums agreed: "Don’t worry. We all did it"; "They’re not hooked up to your blood supply in the first month - they're in a separate bag."

Jonah may have been born a good weight, with no delay in his speech or language or other signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - but my son has Asperger’s syndrome, for which doctors can’t agree on one single cause. There’s no known link between AS and alcohol; but, as I search my beautiful son for the tell-tale inverted crescents at the corner of his eyes – visible markers of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome – I can convince myself they are there. Regardless of the fact I can see the same inverted crescents on the eyes of my cousin's little boy; on a photograph of my great-great grandfather, who has the same stern gaze as Jonah.

One of problems is women today drink more than previous generations. I don’t know how many of our parents were out drinking Jagermeister on a Tuesday night - although many more may have casually smoked 20 Silk Cut a day. The damage we can do unwittingly is frightening – and no one seems prepared to give an accurate assessment of the risk moderate alcohol consumption in pregnancy may cause. Since I had my children, I’ve read newspaper headlines suggesting anything from one unit a day to no alcohol at all can be considered safe. Some even maintain alcohol in moderation could be beneficial. No one really knows - and the fact is, as my midwives said to me, most babies are conceived in a sea of alcohol. They wouldn’t get made otherwise.

The moment a women's right to choose how to conduct themselves while pregnant becomes controlled by law, then we have begun to lose ownership of our bodies – that has to be a dangerous thing, with all sorts of implications for a woman's right to choose.

A recent article by Emma Barnett in the Telegraph, on her increasing willingness to judge women who drink while pregnant, raises an issue which seems to be increasingly in the ether. Are the rights of the unborn child to a healthy start more important than the mother-to-be's right to drink? She cites the case of a barman who refused to serve alcohol to a pregnant woman, and believes people should feel more comfortable exercising their concern for the unborn child in this way. But is she, a woman yet to have children, right to judge women who drink in pregnancy at all?

Conversely, should the law go further to protect babies from their mother's choices? A test case which will shortly go before the Court of Appeal is attempting to extract damages from the mother of a child who suffers from Fetal Alchohol Syndrome - on the ground that the child has been the victim of a crime.

According to current figures there are approximately 7,000 cases of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome a year. And given modern drinking habits, that number may be rising. So is it time to replace guidelines for women consuming alcohol in pregnancy – currently no more than one or two units a week – with laws? Or would legislating against alcohol consumption in pregnancy create more problems than it would solve?

The moment a woman's right to choose how to conduct themselves while pregnant becomes controlled by law, we have begun to lose ownership of our bodies – and that has to be a dangerous thing. It has all sorts of implications for a woman's right to choose - the recent case of the Italian woman with mental health issues, whose baby was forcibly removed by caesarean, springs to mind.

Alongside the difficulties of policing alcohol consumption in pregnancy (would we legislate against women who have two drinks a week instead of one? Imprison those whose babies are born with foetal alcohol syndrome? What about those who don’t know they are pregnant, or aren’t showing yet - where do we draw the line?) we have to ask ourselves how punitive measures against the mothers whose choices (itself a spurious concept, in my book) damage their unborn child is going to be a positive step for anyone involved. Surely, if society is judged against how we treat our most vulnerable, the only way to make the best of a bad fist is a to be supportive of both mother and child?

And, if we start saying only fit, healthy, sober women are allowed to have babies, then where does it end? Should only solvent women be allowed to have children? Or only clever women? Middle-class women? Attractive women?

There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Until you have children of your own it’s very easy to have (literally) pre-conceived notions of how you will be as a mother, like Emma Barnett in the Telegraph. You imagine cultivating a stress-free pregnancy full of yoga classes and organic veggies - but until you have been there and lived it, you’re in La La land.

I don’t know many mums who don’t do the best they can for their kids– as yet unborn or already screaming to high heaven – but that 'best' will be different depending on their circumstances, outlook and priorities. And there’s no changing that without increasing social equality. What’s more, I don’t know where official class lines are drawn when it comes to social drinking - but wine o’clock is, in my experience, a yummy mummy stalwart.

And, even after all that guilt, when my second pregnancy was over, I heaved a sigh of relief and treated myself to a glass or two of Cloudy Bay, baby clamped to my nipple and resolutely ignore anyone who dared give me the mildest look of reproach. Why? Because, when you’ve been up three times a night for the best part of three years, you begin to realise that it isn’t what’s best for baby that’s best for anyone. It’s what’s best for you. And if that means relaxing with a small glass of wine, whatever stage of motherhood you may be at, then so be it.

By Christina Franks

Twitter: @Reprobatemum

Anonynonny Mon 24-Feb-14 13:39:34

I can see several practical problems with such a law, quite apart from the philosophical starting point of a woman's body not being her own.

1. How would the law define heavy drinking and how would they prove that a woman had drunk that much? If she claimed she'd only drunk half that amount, how could anyone prove beyond reasonable doubt that she hadn't?

2. I presume there would be more secret drinking going on and women would be disincentivised from asking for help to stop drinking. Counter prodcutive to say the least.

3. Someone who strongly suspected that they would not be able to either drink secretly or drink less than the legal definition of "heavily" would be more likely to seek an abortion.

The law of unintended consequences would kick in quite quickly if the mostly male parliament legislated about how much women should drink in pregnancy.

Actually something else. The biggest threat to the health of a baby, is domestic violence. That's a much greater threat than drinking alcohol. Why don't we prioritise the biggest problems first?

TheGreatHunt Mon 24-Feb-14 13:52:52

Well when you're pregnant you are growing another person. Hard as it is to take, you have a responsibility to do the best for that person because they're dependent on you.

This isn't about people having the odd glass of wine. Its about people who get wasted deliberately while pregnant.

However, how many sane women do that?

I'm not sure a law is required here or is the right answer.

Devora Mon 24-Feb-14 14:25:14

I agree with your conclusion. I don't think we should criminalise women for what they do to their bodies while pregnant - the implications and repercussions of that are horrifying.

But I do take some issue with some of your reasoning, in particular the suggestion that this is about trying to be the 'perfect parent' and analogous to not eating organic food. Or implying that this is any way about women who had a few glasses too many before they realised they were pregnant.

My child was born addicted to drugs and went through a prolonged and painful withdrawal - alone, on morphine, uncomforted for several weeks by anyone other than passing nurses when they could find the time. She is also almost certainly affected by exposure to alcohol in utero - the effects of that will continue to emerge as she grows older, but will last a lifetime and can't be cured.

The cost is immense to these children, and also to the families and society that must look after them. None of us knows how much is too much (it's not that health professionals 'aren't prepared to give an accurate assessment' but that they don't know and controlled trials would be unethical) but I've certainly never met a child with FAS whose mum just did some social drinking early on. Have you?

I don't think it would be right to prosecute my child's birth mother for what she did. But i do think it is right that what she did be considered child abuse. Because it was.

ifyourehoppyandyouknowit Mon 24-Feb-14 15:50:44

How can you allow an unborn baby to be classed as the victim of a crime, while also maintaining women's bodily autonomy?

I just don't see how you could ever line them up.

I've not read everything here but I think the way forward is just to trust women with their own bodies, pregnancies, and babies - and through education not legislation.

creamteas Mon 24-Feb-14 16:44:45

The current case is basically local government (who pay for social care) trying to get more money from central government (criminal compensation).

In other words, profound rights to bodily autonomy for women are undermined by this battle of budgets.

That's interesting creamteas

22honey Mon 24-Feb-14 17:09:36

No to criminalisation of anything during pregnancy, though Ive noticed massive hypocrisy on Mumsnet with regards to drinking during pregnancy vs smoking and other things. Both things potentially harmful but with drinking particularly its not usually an addiction with most mums to be so I dont see how it can be hard to just stop. I havnt had a drink since I found out despite liking to party, this hasnt been hard at all yet quitting smoking has been extremely hard for me. IMO unless you are an alcoholic drinking anything during pregnancy is an unnecessary risk no one NEEDS to take, yes smoking is the same but that is an addiction the hardest one to break and women get lots of stick for being unable to quit yet non alcoholic pregnant drinkers don't?

So why are women who smoke even who cut down to practically nothing as I have done looked down upon and judged yet plenty of women post they still drink alcohol regularly and are told this is ok by other posters to help 'calm' the mum to be? Would a poster smoking cannabis through a vaporiser be treated the same way? No because its 'illegal' and not socially acceptable despite there being no studies showing it harms babies whatsoever, infact studies have shown it is beneficial and it is even prescribed for MS elsewhere yet due to the stigma women would still be lambasted. I find this very hypocritical tbh. I'd feel more comfortable smoking cannabis than drinking alcohol in pregnancy but choose to do neither because I'm not addicted. Sorry I just don't get it!

I could apply similar reasoning to allsorts of prescription drugs and other things such as long haul flying but I'll leave it there, my last word on it is the risk is entirely up to the mother but anyone taking any unnecessary risk during pregnancy cannot judge another mum to be who might be taking different risks.

StarlightMcKingsThree Mon 24-Feb-14 17:12:13

Women who drink to levels that are likely to harm their babies need help not a conviction after it has happened.

All others will sensibly consume all food and drink in moderation (though not necessarily optimally) well enough and that includes other harmful if in excess foods like brocolli.

StarlightMcKingsThree Mon 24-Feb-14 17:13:51

I drank during my 3 pregnancies because I searched and never found any EVIDENCE for not doing.

Aspartame on the other hand.....

Shootingatpigeons Mon 24-Feb-14 17:37:34

I had my children well over a decade ago when the advice to women was no more than 2 or 3 units a week and no more than 1 unit per day. There is still no convincing evidence that that level of drinking will cause any harm to an unborn child. You never got any derogatory comments or looks from others, barmen or otherwise, people were simply not aware of what the "latest research" was suggesting. Now it seems the media has empowered every person who thinks they occupy the moral high ground to make judgement on any women who even dares to drink a glass of wine, based on the publicising the results of research that suggests that it would be precautionary to not drink at all. There is absolutely no moral high ground that justifies passing judgement on a woman's decision to drink a glass of wine. It is their decision based on weighing up the evidence and medical advice and there is no convincing evidence that it will harm their child.

There is plenty of evidence that other things a women consumes or is exposed to can harm an unborn child, are those same people passing judgement on a woman who uses pesticides in the garden, treats a child's nits with chemical shampoo, eats peanuts, as mentioned by another poster drinks anything containing aspartame etc etc., even has a sneaky portion of soft cheese (or in France an entire cheese and pate board) Somehow alcohol brings out the puritans........

Excessive drinking at levels proven to harm an unborn child is not an issue for the law, it is an issue for social services, and appropriate medical support.

reprobatemum Mon 24-Feb-14 17:37:35

BROCCOLI HARMS? good lord, my other half practically force fed me broccoli in my first trimester!

StarlightMcKingsThree Mon 24-Feb-14 17:43:21

It doesn't harm in moderation. In fact in moderation it is beneficial.

StarlightMcKingsThree Mon 24-Feb-14 17:45:12

Do french give up cheese? Do Japanese give up raw fish?

Devora Mon 24-Feb-14 18:11:27

But we're not talking about 2-3 glasses, are we? We're talking about drinking at a level to cause FAS - which is way, way more. And at a point where i think it is fair to assume that the woman is in fact addicted.

22honey - I'm not having a pop, just a statement of fact: part of the difference in treatment is that there is a safe level of drinking in pregnancy. There is not a safe level of smoking.

Devora Mon 24-Feb-14 18:14:59

I really think there's two debates going on here: the first is whether women should be liable for causing serious damage to their unborn babies. The second is whether women are over-nannied/policed during pregnancy. Eating cheese in pregnancy really doesn't belong in the same discussion as crack babies, does it? Ok, you could argue that they're on the same continuum, but it's a flipping long continuum...

StarlightMcKingsThree Mon 24-Feb-14 18:16:35

Well then legislation should exist to adress the many and complex reasons for addiction way before conception.

SanctiMoanyArse Mon 24-Feb-14 18:21:06

I know a child with severe FAS (foetal alcohol syndrome) so can see it from that side (I know his adopted mother, was removed from birth mother).

But I think it's wrong to treat grown people like children. With ds1 I drank no alcohol at all, with ds4 I had a glass once or twice. People who are pregnant and drink to extremes tend to be flagged up anyway especially if they already have a child (I know full well via my old workload!), so there are mechanisms in place for that already. I'd far rather see better training for people already in place such as MW / support workers / HV to identify real issues, than legislation that criminalises women not doing anything actually proven to be harmful.

Devora Mon 24-Feb-14 18:21:26

What legislation would you like to see, Starlight?

Devora Mon 24-Feb-14 18:23:30

But I don't think there is any suggestion that women could be prosecuted for drinking at a safe level, is there? Wasn't the post about women being prosecuted for causing actual proven harm?

Onepactupac Mon 24-Feb-14 18:28:48

I think this is a largely fabricated dilemma, in real life nobody (say, a father) would waste their time bringing a case against a mother for drinking during her pregnancy with his child. The law is not capable of or able to make a sensible judgement (hence why there are no such laws in existence).

However, just musing on the hypothetical dilemma for a moment, this goes to the heart of the abortion debate: where do you draw the line between a woman and an unborn baby / foetus? Different jurisdictions draw the line in different places (up to 22 weeks, up to 16 weeks, at birth, never) and there can be no correct answer. Inevitably, the slow progress of science will decide the matter. Now that a child born up to 12 weeks before term can be kept alive and go on to lead a healthy life, the parameters of the debate are changing. And so it will be for any other acts the mother can take which might impact the baby (termination clearly being at one extreme of the spectrum).

Shootingatpigeons Mon 24-Feb-14 18:33:56

The article also highlights the growing social pressure initiated by the media on any pregnant woman drinking even one glass of wine in public. Yes it is a continuum but it is pretty clear that at the start of the continuum a woman decision to have a drink, or the odd bit soft cheese or whatever during pregnancy is no one's business but her own and a woman deciding to exceed the levels at which it is known she will be risking FAS needs help. Apart from anything else by the time the child is born with FAS and she is open to prosecution it is too late

Nerfmother Mon 24-Feb-14 18:34:33

Your point has been lost, for me, in the chick lit style of writing - the references to your super cool lifestyle beforehand are fine but let's not forget it's not a reality for most of us, so kind of missing how most pregnant women drink (if they do).
I am intensely offended, for some reason, by your suggestion that aspergers could have been caused by drinking - my son has aspergers and OCD and I think it's very harmful to start hinting at this when there is no evidence to show any kind of link.

Devora Mon 24-Feb-14 18:35:48

But Onepactupac, you have a defined clinically diagnosable condition (FAS) which can only be caused by the mother drinking excessively in pregnancy. And a society that increasingly leans to litigation. So I think it is highly likely that there will be pressure at some time towards a prosecution (instigated by the father, or the child, or the state). And then the floodgates could be opened, because growing numbers of children are being born who are irreversibly damaged.

I really hope it doesn't come to that.

JustGetOnWithIt Mon 24-Feb-14 18:39:12

There are nowhere near 7000 FAS cases a year. Department of Health figures for 2002-2008 were a total of 987 for the entire period. This is an issue dreamt up by anti-alcohol moral campaigners who are quite happy to lie and exaggerate in order to further their cause regardless of the consequences for women, pregnant or not, and for parents of children with disabilities. I also think it is pretty horrible for adoptive parents to be encouraged to talk of the birth mother in such disparaging terms - not good for your child and completely lacking in human sympathy for deeply troubled people.

Devora Mon 24-Feb-14 18:42:58

Shootingatpigeons, I agree that women who are heavily drinking in pregnancy need help. Sadly, they don't always want that help. Very often, they reject any help offered.

I do tend to agree with Nerfmother that they style of this blog is unhelpful to the debate. FAS is a really terrible condition, and it kind of gets trivialised by talk of pate and French cheese. I DO think how women get policed in everyday pregnancy is a legitimate issue for discussion, but perhaps not at the same time as talking about how to deal with the immense problem of babies being born damaged by drugs or alcohol in utero. And you always end up with women who have enjoyed a glass or two feeling guilt-tripped and demonised, and women like me - whose children have been hugely and permanently damaged - feeling that our children's problems have been minimised and glossed over in a rush to assert the right to party.

Shootingatpigeons Mon 24-Feb-14 18:53:33

Nerf I think the point was, though possibly not clearly made, that as mothers we are vulnerable to all this social pressure because, unless we have a problem with drink we are always anxious that we do what is necessary to have a healthy baby, and feel guilt if there is any possibility that we did something that damaged them. Inevitably with all the social pressure and media coverage if your child does have any neuro developmental difference it sets your mind wondering. It isn't rational. I am dyslexic, so are most of my family and obviously it was on the cards my DDs would be dyslexic and I understand it is a difference not a birth defect, and a strength in a lot of ways. However I can't deny that watching my DD cope with her dyslexia and dyspraxia that the thought crosses my mind that when five months pregnant, the point at which the brain is developing, I did enjoy an "indulgent" glass of Cremant on a couple of evenings of a holiday. It is complete irrational bollocks but it makes it all the worse that a few bullies with a prejudice against alcohol have set this whole media circus in train, emotionally blackmailing women into changing their lives to an unnecessary extent.

Onepactupac Mon 24-Feb-14 18:55:37

Devora you raise the question of the point and limits of the law. Sure, after a couple of succesful litigations there may be some preventative force to the law, but what if the defence is addiction (for eg, akin to a defence of insanity to murder)? Where would we go from there? (Don't forget any law would apply just as equally to drugs as to alcohol)

The law is not the answer to everything, and I don't believe it is the answer here either. All the ethical dilemmas we have around alcohol and drugs now will be complicated and multiplied many time when applied vicariously to a foetus/baby through its mother. There would be just no way to ensure miscarriages of justice don't happen frequently.

StarlightMcKingsThree Mon 24-Feb-14 18:58:13

Legislation protecting the social care budgets for early intervention in social care, not crisis management firefighting and criminalising vulnerable people.

Nerfmother Mon 24-Feb-14 19:00:45

Shooting , if that was the point it was totally lost to me. Thank you for explaining.
Unfortunately this blog reads too much like a stealth boast and the serious bits feel like a vehicle for the op to tell us about her previous coolness. Which is a shame, because I would happily talk about this stuff, and would welcome a discussion.

Shootingatpigeons Mon 24-Feb-14 19:27:01

Devora We are not disagreeing here. This article was about the dangers of policing women's bodies, the fact that the very serious issues around FAS have been hijacked by a patriarchal agenda that seeks to regulate what women do, how they behave etc. It shouldn't be that this issue gets covered in the same sort of rhetoric as criticising women for binge drinking (when not pregnant) having babies late etc. but it is. What it should be covered as, as is highlighted above, is as a social issue

ifyourehoppyandyouknowit Mon 24-Feb-14 19:35:22

Would be prosecute women who didn't take folic acid during pregnancy and then gave birth to children with related condii?

StarlightMcKingsThree Mon 24-Feb-14 19:37:05

I didn't take pregnancy vits. I tried. They made me nauseas and made my already extreme heartburn worse.

AskBasil Mon 24-Feb-14 19:52:51

I think one of the other problems with this, is that it's pretty much established that FAS also has a genetic component, doesn't it?

You can't give your baby FAS by drinking half a bottle of gin a day, as I seem to remember reading that Anne Robinson did when she was pregnant (or around that level), unless you also have a genetic pre-disposition which the excess of alcohol will trigger.

So would we only prosecute women who carried that particular gene as the others can happily do an Anne Robinson and drink as much as they like with no risk of FAS (although they may be risking other stuff.

Anyway obviously any law wouldn't be about protecting babies, it would be about policing women. If the government really wanted to protect babies, it would do something about a) the horrendous levels of undiagnosed alcoholism in general society and b) the horrendous levels of domestic violence, which as someone else has mentioned, is the biggest threat to fetuses and babies and c) the horrendous levels of poverty. Poverty is the single biggest factor as to outcomes for all babies.

justiceofthePeas Mon 24-Feb-14 20:57:11

What would be the point in prosecution after the fact? If they go down this route the logical conclusion would be to confine women who are deemed to be unfit wombs.

Perhaps a more relevant policy, with specific reference to this case would be to look at the way all addition al needs support is funded instead of only being able to claim compensation when there is blame or a criminal act.

Money should be allocated according to need not blame.

As for policing women's bodies it is reprehensible and immoral.

I can't quite believe a case like this is being brought in the UK. This is extremely disturbing. If you are a woman who would like to be considered as a full human being whose body is her own and you are not bothered by this case, or you think a ruling in favour of prosecuting mothers in these circumstances is a good idea, think a bit harder about the implications. Look at what is happening in the US and ask yourself if you really want the UK to go down a similar route.

Ascribing personhood to foetuses is ultimately incompatible with legal abortion.

If we care about children being born with FAS, and about children born with other preventable conditions, let's look for proper solutions which actually work and which don't strip anybody of their rights.

YoniMatopoeia Mon 24-Feb-14 22:53:58

It's the start of a slippery slope imo.

I read some opinion piece from the US where they were suggesting that women of child-bearing age should not be served alcohol (can't find it now), you know, just in case they were pregnant.

KatnipEvergreen Tue 25-Feb-14 16:48:06

Also women with drug addictions have been sent to prison for harming the foetus in the US. Not for the drug use, per se, but for the harm caused to the foetus. I don't think locking someone up in this way helps anyone and I don't want us to go down this slippery slope to women losing autonomy over their bodies. Smoking is far more directly harmful than drinking moderately and I wouldn't suggest making this illegal while pregnant either.

dixiedoodle Tue 25-Feb-14 17:18:27


LurcioLovesFrankie Tue 25-Feb-14 17:21:55

It's one of those situations where there is no scope for compromise. We as a society have to decide which is more important - foetuses (potential, as yet unborn), or women (already here, already given personhood). There is no middle ground which can allow rights to both.

And for me the prospect of having rights to bodily autonomy taken away from approximately 50% of already born human beings to defend the imaginary rights of foetuses is so horrific I come down firmly on the side of allowing pregnant women to do what they choose to. I do this knowing that there will be a tiny minority who make very bad choices and damage their foetuses, but I cannot see how any legislation could be framed which would protect those foetuses without taking rights away from all women as a result.

I am in awe of those of you bringing up children with FAS, and very sad for those children, but there is no way to legislate to prevent damage to those children without damaging women's rights so irrevocably that it would create the sort of society I would not wish to live in.

Piscivorus Tue 25-Feb-14 21:06:33

I am taking here about levels of use that would harm a foetus, not eating cheese, etc.

I don't think the argument that a woman's body is her own is valid during pregnancy because another human being is cohabiting that body and is totally reliant upon her. I find it shocking that some women don't show care and respect for the child they are carrying. Once the child is born everybody would be outraged if it was fed alcohol to the point that its health was harmed and I think that outrage should be the same before birth.

I was talking to a nurse recently who had worked with children born addicted to alcohol and/or drugs. Her view was that if the general public (and that includes most of us) were to see the suffering these children go through then we would have very different opinions about a woman's right to abuse these substances in pregnancy

ifyourehoppyandyouknowit Tue 25-Feb-14 21:22:20

But women have the right to abort that life, and if you support women's rights to bodily autonomy, you don't support restricting their lives and control of their bodies because of the rights of a hypothetical person.

Plus there is no evidence to show that how you much alcohol (if any) affects the fetus. Lots of women drink without knowing they are pregnant. How do you legislate for thate? Please piss on this stick before I pour your gin and tonic, ma'am?

ifyourehoppyandyouknowit Tue 25-Feb-14 21:23:30

The key thing is that while the fetus is inside the mother, it is not born. Ascribing it personhood is a slippery slope to go down.

justiceofthePeas Tue 25-Feb-14 21:37:52

piscivorus eating the wrong cheese when pregnant could do serious harm to a foetus (that is why they advise against it).

AskBasil Tue 25-Feb-14 21:39:03

Hopalong that's exactly the solution proposed in some states in the US. The discussion has already moved to the suggestion that all women of childbearing age should not drink just in case they are pregnant and don't know it yet.

That's how far the Overton window has moved. Women need to understand that the urge to control us, is still very very strong and if we cede one inch on our personhood, then we don't know where that road will lead.

When women have half the power, money and control of resources in the world then maybe we can start discussing reducing their status as human (though I personally wouldn't). While we're still the also-ran humans, it is sheer folly to give up one bit of our human status because that will lead to us giving up far more than we thought we would.

LurcioLovesFrankie Tue 25-Feb-14 22:21:01

Well said, Basil - it's very scary the way the debate is going in the States.

It's also important to remember that the recent case of the woman with impaired mental faculties given a C section will have been done (under English law) for her benefit, not the child's. As I understand it, she needed the surgery, was mentally incompetent to consent, so a court order had to be made instead. It was not done (contrary to what the tabloid press would have you believe) so that social workers could snatch the baby. Under English law, the foetus had no rights - only the risk to the life of the mother, coupled with her mental incapacity, could provide reason for the court order.

LurcioLovesFrankie Tue 25-Feb-14 22:26:44

"Her view was that if the general public (and that includes most of us) were to see the suffering these children go through then we would have very different opinions about a woman's right to abuse these substances in pregnancy"

I have read about FAS and the effects of drug abuse in utero. I know that the effects are horrific. But I have also read about women being denied life-saving treatment (the recent case in Ireland where a woman was denied an abortion despite miscarriage being inevitable, and died of massive systemic infection as a direct result, cases in Nicaragua where women have died from ectopic pregnancies because of the restrictions on abortion). I still come down on the side of the rights of human beings who already exist, rather than the rights of foetuses who are not yet, but which might eventually become human beings.

And I say that as someone who carried a very much wanted pregnancy to term, and was totally paranoid about avoiding anything that might have harmed that pregnancy. But the key point is that I, the woman in question, wanted that pregnancy, and I, the adult woman, the person, chose voluntarily to make sacrifices. It was not forced on me by society, and any society which would force those choice and sacrifices on me would, in my opinion, be a totalitarian society.

I'm sorry to say we appear to have been dragged into yet another "downer" conversation with Society suggesting, yet again, that women are incapable of making a sensible decision when they're pregnant. Should we all be back in crinolines, obeying our husbands and fathers? What Society cannot seem to get its head round is that the vast majority of women do care about their unborn children and are perfectly capable of making sensible judgments on what's right for them..... as an individual. If that means abstaining from alcohol, so be it. Equally that might mean drinking in moderation. You will always get the small percentage who can't make sensible choices but as one of the comments above rightly says, they need help not criminal sanctions.
My biggest gripe is that we shouldn't allow ourselves to be dragged into these debates but should send the answer back to Society that we, as women, are perfectly capable and have every right to make individual choices about our bodies, pregnancy, birth, childcare and all the other areas of life we seem to spend our time being barracked about by well meaning do-gooders, random medical surveys and over excited media sources.

RandomInternetStranger Wed 26-Feb-14 02:06:35

Message deleted by MNHQ for the use of disabilist language. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

Yet again a couple of idiot men trying to balls things up for women.

Whoever proposed this should be sacked. And whoever gave it airtime too.

RandomInternetStranger Wed 26-Feb-14 17:52:53

Can someone explain what "disabilist" language I used to have my post removed? As far as I remember I may have said moron or that we need a cull of stupid people but I don't see stupidity as a disability, I see it as a choice. Is stupidity now a disability?? hmm

confuddledDOTcom Wed 26-Feb-14 19:10:12

I have never not drunk in pregnancy, I'm not an excessive drinker naturally and can go months without and only have a glass or two when I do. I think women need to choose for themselves, when I drink in pregnancy it's almost in recognition of that fact.

I do not think we can go down the road that America is and once you get on that road it's a difficult one to get off.

Devora Wed 26-Feb-14 23:03:20

I agree with everyone on here, with the caveat that while I agree drinking in pregnancy should not be criminalised, women who abuse their children by causing them to have FAS may expect to attract the attention of social services.

creamteas Thu 27-Feb-14 09:07:35

women who abuse their children by causing them to have FAS may expect to attract the attention of social services

Given that FAS only ever occurs in women who are chronic alcoholics, it would be astonishing if this wasn't already happening.

StarlightMcKingsThree Thu 27-Feb-14 09:26:35

I think strong education and support needs to be given to women who are addicts in order to prevent pregnancies whilst they are in that condition and long term contraception made easy and encouraged, and then full support to address the addiction should they want to have children (or in any case).

confuddledDOTcom Thu 27-Feb-14 10:25:37

A woman who is drinking to those extremes needs help and I'd hope that would be obvious to those around her.

Devora Thu 27-Feb-14 13:52:31

It largely is, creamteas; I'm just making the point that although all are agreed that this shouldn't be criminalised, that doesn't mean that there aren't (or shouldn't be) legal ramifications.

Of course women in that situation should be offered help. and where they are, they should be offered more and better help. But everyone who has worked with addictions knows that many don't want that help, or can't make it even with that help. So it can't be suggested as a straightforward alternative. When women addicted to drugs or alcohol give birth, it is still not an automatic presumption that they won't be able to care effectively for their child. But it will absolutely be used as part of the evidence that they can't.

I'm labouring this a bit because sometimes on these threads you get a bit of romanticism (not saying that is true of anyone on this thread particularly), a suggestion that children wouldn't need to be taken into care if only their mothers were offered help. When you have seen women who have been on a rollercoaster of intervention and support for YEARS, who have had 6, 8, 10 children born with brain damage, you realise what a high price is paid for our (justified) refusal to countenance forced sterilisation or criminalisation.

janebblogger Fri 28-Feb-14 20:19:53

I did not drinking during my three pregnancies. Well, as soon as I got the double blue line I was saintly. It just felt wrong with that little person growing inside me. Even when people were quite insistent I have a little sip I easily refused. There is no clear research stating how much is too much, so I'd advise woman to abstain. Perhaps they could pass a law that partners should too?

janebblogger Fri 28-Feb-14 20:22:19

Oops I mean to say 'I did not drink' and no I haven't been 'drinking'

Chunderella Mon 03-Mar-14 21:30:55

22honey the reason why women are supported in drinking during pregnancy and not in smoking is because any smoking at all is harmful, whereas all the evidence says 1-2 units a week is fine. So you aren't comparing like with like. I've never seen anyone who drinks more than that being told it's ok. That's not to say there aren't some bizarre double standards on this issue around here. There was a recent discussion where one pregnant woman berated others for drinking during pregnancy, whilst wrongly asserting that her own decision to eat pate was so much safer. Personally I support the right of a pregnant woman to indulge in all or none of these, to whatever extent she wishes. And am strongly opposed to shaming pregnant smokers, both on principle because a woman's body is her own, and in practice because that approach doesn't work anyway. That doesn't mean it's double standards to point out that drinking moderately in pregnancy has been proven to be safe and smoking the opposite.

Devora did you mean to write asserting the right to party, or should it have read 'parity' as in parity with the foetus?

Devora Mon 03-Mar-14 22:44:43

Chunderella, I was criticising the way these threads collapse the continuum and only pay lip service to the situation of the unborn child. Though I agree that women should not be criminalised for what they do to their bodies during pregnancy, children like mine seem to be invisible on these threads - their interests ignored in favour of the 'right to party'.

And I agree with your post smile

Chunderella Tue 04-Mar-14 11:42:29

Ok, well I think the use of the term 'right to party' rather trivialises the importance of the woman's right to do as she wishes with her body during pregnancy. Ultimately, we inevitably have to ignore the interests of one group or the other and there's not really any way round that. It isn't even lip service: its less than that. You have to choose one group whose rights are more important, and the interests of the other are then subordinate. I sympathise, but I don't think either your daughter or mine would benefit from their rights over their bodies during pregnancy being further limited either.

midwifeandmum Tue 04-Mar-14 17:38:36

Omg how is there NO evidence linking alcohol with abnormalities in children exposed to alcohol.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy..... hence the name.

There is no known proof of how many units consumed by mother to cause FAS, it could be very few to alot of units.

Ive seen a mother 5 years ago DRUNK whilst in labour. She had been secretly drinking at home when she prematurely went into labour.

I dont know the outcome as I dont liase with health visitors etc. But I do know that its a very dangerous game to mess around with drink and drugs whilst pregnant. The placenta feeds baby everything we ate/drink.

so please if your really stressed out and need that smoke/drink. think how stressful it could be in future years with a child unable to do alot of what kids their age can do. Get help for an addiction.

Chunderella Tue 04-Mar-14 17:41:50

All the research on 1-2 units of alcohol weekly and no more has shown it's safe, though.

midwifeandmum Tue 04-Mar-14 18:13:02

Can be safe but no research to say it is. Thats why regulations and advice changed in 2005 to say NO drinking is advised in pregnancy. Whereas it used to be advised 1-2 units

Chunderella Tue 04-Mar-14 18:24:36

There is no research that I'm aware of showing that 1-2 units a week is anything other than safe midwife. If you know of any, please do post it, but my understanding is that there is none. Also, the change in advice was not evidence based- quite the opposite. It was thought that women were too stupid or feckless to understand exactly what 1-2 units a week meant, and that it would be best simply to recommend no alcohol at all because of this despite the fact that this didn't reflect the outcome of the research.

Devora Tue 04-Mar-14 19:25:19

Ah, now I'm not agreeing with you Chunderella. Now I'm feeling patronised.

I have said repeatedly throughout this thread that I think sacrificing women's reproductive rights is too high a price to pay and I am dead against any criminalisation of drinking during pregnancy. I have been a pro-choice activist for 30 years, and have worked in abortion clinics. I am also the mother of a child damaged by alcohol and drugs in utero.

Please don't fucking lecture me that I have to choose which side I'm on, or accuse me of trivialising the issues. My whole point - which seems to have been lost on you, despite me explaining it throughout the thread - is that it is, in my view, trivialising the issue to have these threads dominated by women who are not struggling with addiction, whose children are healthy, who do not have social services involvement in their lives, and who have been able to enjoy a great deal of reproductive autonomy, and who think that this is all about them enjoying a few glasses of bubbly early on in pregnancy. The real nub of the issue - including but not limited to the suffering of children born with FAS - never seems worthy of much beyond acknolwedgement.

It's no part of my feminism to 'ignore the interests' of hurt and hurting children. I do not see their interests as being subordinate to mine. And don't tell me that you sympathise: you quite clearly don't and have no interest in developing any understanding whatsoever.

Chunderella Tue 04-Mar-14 19:44:25

Well, if we're going to get angry...

Personally devora I found your terminology disgusting. You did trivialise the issue when you refer to it as the right to party, and if you've worked in abortion provision (me too) you should know better. The only reason I didn't give you both barrels about your choise of phrase initially was is because of your experience of parenting a child with FAS. Dismissing women's legitimate concerns about the encroachment on our bodily autonomy during pregnancy as 'being about them enjoying a few glasses of bubbly during early pregnancy' shows a total lack of understanding. Nor is it for you to decide what the real nub of the issue is. It isn't that I didn't understand your point, it's just that it isn't a good one.

Incidentally, where did you find the information that told you the women posting on this thread are not struggling with addiction, that their children are healthy and have been able to enjoy a great deal of reproductive autonomy? Because I can't see it, and you have no right whatsoever to assume.

Devora Tue 04-Mar-14 20:24:07

I'm going to say it one last time, very very clearly: I did NOT refer to women's reproductive freedom as the right to party; I DID say it was too important to be portrayed as simply the right to party.

Chunderella Tue 04-Mar-14 20:35:13

That is not the only context in which you used the term. Its usage in your post at 22.44 yesterday was extremely objectionable.

confuddledDOTcom Thu 06-Mar-14 00:05:25

people don't drink just because they're stressed, they drink because it's a choice. In my kitchen I have carling, red wine, amaretto, coke, oj, coconut & pineapple juice... Right now my choice is coke but Monday I really wanted a carling, not because I was stressed, I like it and wanted some. When I'm pregnant I make the same choices. I'm not stressed but fancy that at that moment. I'm not a big drinker, if I want to make that choice it's up to me. No one owns my womb.

I stand by my previous statement that a woman drinking to that level has other problems and needs help not a conviction.

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