'Media scare stories over drinking during pregnancy are causing women to ask for abortions

BBC, The Independent, The Telegraph, and a number of other media sources are covering a recent report from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service provides help to women with an unplanned pregnancy or a pregnancy they choose not to continue with.

The organization recently reported an increase in the number of women considering an abortion because of fears about the possible harms of binge drinking prior to knowing they were pregnant. The organization is quoted as saying:

“Warnings that even one episode of binge drinking by a pregnant woman can cause lifelong damage to her baby are causing serious and unnecessary distress.  We are now regularly seeing women so concerned that they have harmed their baby before they knew they were pregnant they consider ending what would otherwise be a wanted pregnancy.”

The Telegraph interviewed experts and government officials to explore issues related to “pre-pregnancy test binge drinking.” Some of the issues discussed in the media coverage is the ambiguity in the research evidence about low levels of alcohol use during pregnancy, reassurance for women who are considering an abortion due to drinking prior to pregnancy awareness, and the reality that almost 50% of pregnancies are unplanned.

Binge drinking and pregnancy_ 5 myths busted - Telegraph'

Official advice on alcohol use during pregnancy in the United Kingdom, from the National Health Service, recommends that pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether. However, if women choose to drink, they should drink no more than one or two units of alcohol (equivalent to a glass of wine) once or twice a week.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service suggested that women’s concerns were spurred by a recent study stating that one episode of binge drinking was enough to cause considerable harm to a fetus. This type of reporting relates to ongoing discussions in the field of FASD prevention about the framing of messages about the potential harms of alcohol use during pregnancy. Some individuals and groups in the field are concerned that strongly worded messages (e.g., “Pregnant women should NEVER drink alcohol”) and the use of shocking or threatening images (e.g., a baby in an alcohol bottle) can have unintended consequences – such as unnecessary worry and fear throughout pregnancy or considering having an abortion.

While it’s important to inform women about the dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy, some researchers are suggesting that it might be helpful to be honest with women about the ambiguity in the academic research about low levels of alcohol use – rather than discouraging abstinence, this might help women to understand why official guidelines suggest that “the safest option is to not drinking during pregnancy” and that “there is no known amount of alcohol use during pregnancy that has been shown to be safe.”

For more on this issue, see an earlier post: Do concerns about alcohol use during pregnancy lead women to consider having an abortion? (February 1, 2013)