Alaska Bars Offer Free Pregnancy Tests In Bathrooms To Try And Prevent Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

In an effort to decrease the rate of fetal alcohol syndrome and related disorders, Alaska bars are offering free pregnancy tests in their bathrooms. Officials estimate more than 126 children are born at risk in Alaska for a range of alcohol-related disorders each year, one of the highest rates in the country. The idea is if pregnancy tests are readily available at drinking establishments such as bars, women will likely stop drinking if they discover they're pregnant.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) refers to a range of effects that can cause physical, mental, behavioral, and learning disabilities. It's hard to nail down the total number of infants with fetal alcohol syndrome because there is no medical test to diagnose FASD. That's why experts say the best thing a mother can do to prevent FASD is to avoid drinking any alcohol during her pregnancy.

The tests are being provided through a two-year, state-funded project that is being conducted by the University of Alaska Anchorage. The $400,000 program is set to distribute 5,000 tests over the next year, with each test costing the state just $1.50 a pop. Alaska state Sen. Pete Kelly, who proposed the test project, argued most women are responsible enough to not drink if they discover they're pregnant, telling Alaska Dispatch News:

Under the assumption that if you know you’re pregnant, you won’t drink. That is true for much of the population.

Critics have questioned the program's effectiveness, saying it would be better to use the money to make condoms or other contraception available at bars as a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. (Condoms are being offered side-by-side with the tests, but they're being funded separately.) Others argue the pregnancy tests won't offer a real solution for women who choose to binge drink while pregnant.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 13 pregnant women in the country reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days, and one in every 71 pregnant women reported binge drinking. The CDC also said nearly one in five women in Alaska binge drink, which means they consume four or more drinks in any one occasion during the last 30 days, a higher rate than much of the rest of the country.

The free pregnancy tests are admittedly just one piece of a bigger solution, but frankly, they're an inventive way of tackling something as serious as fetal alcohol syndrome. If people take the tests, then the program works. The pregnancy test dispensers include posters that ask, "Remember the last time you had sex? Were you drinking?" Having those kind of direct questions posed to you while you're popping a squat at a bar is a brilliant plan. Sexual health resources should always be readily available and accessible so why not offer them in a bar bathroom?

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