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8 October 2014

UK: Drinking abstinence advice prompting women to seek abortion

'Scare stories' about binge drinking while pregnant are driving women to request abortions for fear they might have caused their babies harm, British Pregnancy Advisory Service has warned.

The charity said that media reports that even one episode of binge drinking while pregnant could lead to lifelong damage to the baby were causing ‘serious and unnecessary distress’. Evidence suggested the risk of physical or neurological damage to babies from isolated episodes of binge drinking – consuming six or more units in one sitting, the equivalent of three glasses of wine – was ‘minimal’.

Warnings over drinking, including media reports last month that one episode of binge drinking could cause lasting damage to a child’s mental health and even harm school results, have led to BPAS regularly seeing women so concerned they have harmed their baby before they knew they were pregnant, they consider ending what would otherwise be a wanted pregnancy.

Experts remain uncertain on the exact safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy, the Independent reports.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommends that women avoid alcohol altogether for the first three months of pregnancy, because of the risk of miscarriage, and to stick to no more than one or two units, once or twice a week for the remainder of the pregnancy.

BPAS said it was important to recognise that ‘occasional binges’ were a ‘fact of life’ for women of reproductive age. ‘Inevitably that means significant numbers of women will have drunk fairly heavily before finding out they were pregnant,’ the charity said.

Drinking heavily throughout pregnancy is linked with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which causes developmental problems and deformities in children of some alcoholic mothers.

But Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, said that women should be ‘reassured that the odd night of heavy drinking before they found out they were pregnant is extremely unlikely to have caused their baby harm’. ‘It concerns us greatly that when women with wanted pregnancies are driven to consider abortion because they needlessly fear their behaviour has damaged their baby,’ she said.

Media scare stories over drinking during pregnancy are causing women to ask for abortions. Independent, 7 October 2014

Interview with Ann Furedi on Radio 4’s Today programme, 6.50am, 7 October 2014

No need to consider abortion over pre-pregnancy test binge. BPAS, 7 October 2014

Pregnant women shouldn’t be policed by media hype on binge drinking. If women are seeking abortions because of fears they have damaged their foetus, it shows how ingrained the message is that we’re unfit to control our pregnant bodies. By Lola Okolosie. Guardian, 8 October 2014

Also read:

Foetal alcohol syndrome – Westminster Hall debate, 14 October 2014.

UK: Charities intervene in court case to defend pregnant women’s freedom. An unprecedented hearing to decide whether a child whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy should receive compensation could criminalise pregnant women’s behaviour, claim BPAS and Birthrights. Reproductive Review, 28 July 2014

Analysis: Drinking in pregnancy – what do we know? Health professionals and policymakers are drawing increasing attention to women’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy: to the point where women who are pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant, are officially advised to abstain from alcohol altogether. But how much do we know about the effects of alcohol upon the developing fetus? And does this justify the current guidance? Reproductive Review, 5 February 2014