1. The USAToday's Summary of New CDC Recommendations
The Big Brother has arrived! According to the USAToday:
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.
"The risk is real. Why take the chance?” Schuchat asked.
The CDC estimates 3.3 million women between ages 15 to 44 are at risk of exposing a developing fetus to alcohol because they drink, are sexually active and not using birth control. Even when women are actively trying to get pregnant, three in four continue drinking after they stop using birth control, according to the CDC report.
There is no known safe level of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy, according to the CDC. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women abstain completely from alcohol while pregnant.
The bolds are mine. Read the first bolded sentence and then the second bolded sentence. Notice any difference? The hook in the article tells us that all women not using contraception who belong to a usually fertile age group should stop drinking, for the sake of future babies (whether planned or completely imaginary, and even if they will be born to someone else). Even Lesbians, hermits, nuns, other celibate individuals and infertile people should abstain from alcohol! Any woman might accidentally fall upon a penis, I guess.
Now imagine the Pre-Pregnancy Police coming for you if you try to get a drink and don't have enough wrinkles to prove your new legal drinking age! (1) Bartenders and other volunteers might refuse to serve you that glass of wine or at least first demand to know if you are on the pill, and then decide if you are allowed to drink.
The Pre-Pregnancy Police doesn't yet exist. But the Pregnancy Police, in the form of not only actual police but also concerned volunteers is a real thing and a real pest for pregnant women. I guess one advantage of this new recommendation is that now those helpful strangers can pester all younger women equally and not just the ones who are visible pregnant.
After writing that rant about the USAToday summary I read what the CDC actually says:
An estimated 3.3 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 years are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, sexually active, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy, according to the latest CDC Vital Signs report released today. The report also found that 3 in 4 women who want to get pregnant as soon as possible do not stop drinking alcohol when they stop using birth control.
Alcohol use during pregnancy, even within the first few weeks and before a woman knows she is pregnant, can cause lasting physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities that can last for a child’s lifetime. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). There is no known safe amount of alcohol – even beer or wine – that is safe for a woman to drink at any stage of pregnancy.
Bolds are mine.
That is not the same as the first sentence in the USAToday story. I wish newspapers didn't promote shitty journalism.
2. The CDC Recommendations. On Statistics And Medical Studies.
But even more I wish that the people at CDC had a better understanding of statistics, more transparency about what medical research actually shows and doesn't show. I also wish that they had hired someone who would have edited the writing in this sentence:
An estimated 3.3 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 years are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, sexually active, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy.
Those 3.3 million women don't all have "a developing baby". They are potentially at risk for becoming pregnant. Those two are very different things, and what is developing during any resulting pregnancy is not called a baby until it is born.
For the statistical problems, consider this quote that was used in the USAToday article as well as in the original CDC report:
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.
That half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned does NOT mean that every woman has a 50% chance of having an unintended pregnancy! Yet all public health announcements aimed at fertile women seem to assume that the 50% frequency difference applies to every single fertile woman, even those who don't have heterosexual intercourse.
The actual situation is quite different, as this Guttmacher Institute graph shows:
I quote from the graph: The two thirds of US women at risk of unintended pregnancy who practice contraception consistently and correctly account for only 5% of unintended pregnancies.
I suspect that the CDC researchers who wrote the recommendation did take that Guttmacher information into account, because the recommendation doesn't extend to women who use reliable contraception. But the USAToday made a hash of it all and the CDC still parrots the statement without giving that sentence I bolded.
Even the more moderate statement from the CDC is not moderate when it comes to certain hidden assumptions about what various groups of women can be asked to sacrifice and for what types of reasons. To see why that is the case, let's talk about the medical evidence on fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).