A new study has found an unexpected link between laws regulating pregnant women's alcohol consumption and abortion restrictions.
According to the research, states that have more abortion restrictions also tend to punish women who drink alcohol while pregnant more harshly.
The study, published in the Alcohol and Alcoholism journal on Wednesday, is a part of ongoing research into whether punishing women (or supporting them) reduces harm from alcohol use during pregnancy — and suggests that these punitive policies are more about restricting women's freedoms than they are about safety.
Researchers at the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health group at University of California San Francisco took a look at alcohol and pregnancy policies from 1970 to 2013 in addition to reproductive health laws across the U.S. In short, the number of states with alcohol and pregnancy policies has increased since 1970 — there was only one state (Massachusetts) that had such policies in 1974, and 43 in 2013.
Plus, the laws became harsher over time, in parallel with efforts to restrict women's reproductive rights and freedoms.
For instance, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, which all had punitive alcohol policies as of 2013, also had mandatory counseling and waiting periods for anyone seeking abortions, and abortions were (and still are) banned after 20 weeks in each of those states. This is what lead researchers to question whether the drinking regulations were actually written with harm-reduction and safety in mind.
"As with any laws related to alcohol use, we must understand what these policies actually do to reduce harms from alcohol consumption during pregnancy," study author Sarah Roberts, DrPH, said in a statement shared with Refinery29. "People who want to reduce harms due to the consumption of alcohol by pregnant women should be concerned that policymaking in this area appears to be more about restricting women’s reproductive autonomy than addressing the issue itself."
Earlier this week, a study found that abortion restrictions do not protect women's health and safety, pointing yet again to the idea that these policies in reality are meant to control women — not to actually help them.
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