Free Pregnancy Tests Coming to Alaska Bars in the Name of Science

Researchers in Alaska will soon be providing free pregnancy tests in bars throughout the state – but not for the reason you might think. The two-year study by the University of Alaska aims to determine the most effective places to put posters discouraging pregnant women from drinking alcohol, and they think the best place for the message might be on a test dispenser. In fact, the researchers don't expect many women to actually use the dispensers. They're just hoping the message comes through.

Alaska has the highest U.S. rates of fetal alcohol syndrome, which can begin within a month of conception, before a woman even knows she is pregnant. That is especially bad news for Alaskan women, who are 20 percent more likely to binge drink than the national average. That's where the free tests come in. “This is not a strategy for the chronic alcoholic who is drinking regardless of whatever message they see," Jody Allen Crowe, a Minnesota activist assisting with the project, told the Alaska Dispatch. "This is really focused on the 50 percent of unexpected pregnancies, to find out they are pregnant as early as possible."

It's also hoped that the study will help prevent pregnancy in the first place, as condoms will also be provided. The condoms won't be covered by the state grant that is funding the $400,000 study, which will only be carried out in locations that already have or would be open to making condoms available. Birth control not already provided by the study locations will be funded by outside sources.

All told, about 5,000 pregnancy tests will be provided in the first year of the study, with the control group of locations simply hanging posters warning of fetal alcohol syndrome on the wall. The tests themselves will have the same warning message as the posters, and all materials will invite women to take a survey in exchange for a gift card. The dispensers and posters will start appearing this December.