Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Drinking and the Rights of Pregnant Women

I really enjoyed Julia Moskin's piece in today's Times about having a glass of wine while pregnant. Moskin rightfully points out that people feel free to make judgements about the behavior of pregnant women that they never would with other people. And many of these judgements concern her smoking or drinking. Of course, smoking is bad for anyone at anytime. But is drinking? Obviously, no one wants pregnant women drinking a six-pack every night. But a glass of wine or a single beer? What difference does it make? Moskin reports that there is no research suggesting it makes any difference at all.

I have a few thoughts on this matter. Though I first have to ask for reader indulgence since as a man I am writing about something that I never have to deal with and therefore perhaps don't have a right to speak about. But as an official loudmouth, I will anyway.

Moskin writes about how part of this issue comes from the fact that Americans view alcohol as a drug rather than a natural part of life. In France, everyone drinks wine. In the US, drinking still has a bit of the naughty about it. Even a glass of wine at dinner both puts out slightly out of normative American behavior and sets you off from American class standards. Beer has a different aura in this country, but beer drinkers still suffer from the puritanical norms of American culture. After all, isn't it far worse to see a pregnant woman eating terrible food than drinking a glass of wine? Look at the health of American children? I'm hardly a paragon of health, but the amount of overweight children far exceeds 20 years ago when I was in elementary school. Shouldn't that be far more offensive to us than a beer?

But this also goes back to the fact Americans have a weird hangup over babies and very small children. Maybe it's worldwide and not just American. But we go completely nuts over the rights of babies and then once they're born, we stop caring. There is a close relationship between hectoring pregnant mothers and the anti-abortion movement. Americans are crazed with protecting the rights of the unborn. But what happens after their born? We don't care that their parents feed them processed food. We don't care that babies from mothers who could have had an abortion are living in poverty. We don't care when those babies become teenagers and get involved with crime. We take those fetuses we once defended and throw their asses in prison for 3 years on drug possession. We don't properly fund Head Start or WIC. Why don't we care as much for actual children as we do for potential ones?

Finally, what rights do pregnant women have? Shouldn't they be afforded the basic courtesies that we give to any other citizen? Should people in bars be harassing bartenders for serving a pregnant woman a glass of wine? Should the courts get involved at the first sign of a problem? Obviously, these are difficult questions. Expectant mothers should take care of their fetus, though for that matter, so should expectant fathers. But at the very least, pregnant women deserve the same rights that you and I have.