Pregnancy health warnings don’t lead to abortion
Pull up the drawbridge, cue the statement about “inconclusive evidence’’ - another pesky health warning is about to get in the way of making dosh.
The Federal Government is considering product warning labels on alcohol bottles as part of a strategy to curb the rates of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, something a dozen countries around the world already do.
The industry has, unsurprisingly, come out against the prospect of “cigarette-style” warning labels - because it may apparently cause a flurry of terminations from guilt-wracked women.
The Winemakers Federation of Australia has told the current inquiry:
If the warning label states that the child could or may have been damaged… this will likely create a sense of fear and guilt. There is also the possibility of some pregnancies ending in termination before actual harmful affects of alcohol have been been adequately assessed.
What a daft and self-serving claim.
Relevant information will cause undue distress? It smacks of the sort of patronising garble that once dismissed women as “hysterical’’ whenever they voiced a strong opinion, and deemed them reactive and unthinking pots of petticoated emotion unable to handle complex thought or anything stronger than a small sherry on Sundays.
Maybe the good people at the Winemakers’ Federation should have a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down themselves.
Abortions aren’t instant, and even if a panicked woman did race off to her doctor to ask for one because she just read the back of a wine bottle, the requisite counselling would presumably put her mind at rest - or give her the facts she should have had before she got tanked and put herself in that position.
Like when she was picking up that bottle and pouring herself another, perhaps… But the industry must think it’s on a winner with this argument.
The Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia submission warned that “alarmist’’ statements “have real potential to cause great harm if they lead to unwarranted anxiety, depression, or terminations’‘.
The current guidelines aren’t alarmist, so why should a considered consumer warning be any worse?
The National Health and Medical Research Council says the risk of harm to the foetus “is likely to be low if a woman has consumed only small amounts of alcohol before she knew she was pregnant or during pregnancy’‘.
What’s alarmist about that?
The reason doctors recommend no alcohol whatsoever during pregnancy is because it’s impossible to determine a safe drinking level. Some women can enjoy a few drinks and not harm their babies, but other mums will inflict devastating injuries on their child.
According to the NHMRC, the risk of brain damage and birth defects is “individually variable as it is influenced by a wide range of maternal and foetal characteristics’‘.
So better to avoid alcohol altogether than play Russian roulette with each sip.
Most women shelve their former drinking habits once they know they are pregnant, so labels (mandatory in the US, France, South Africa and Russia, and voluntary in China and Japan) would be preaching to a large number of the converted anyway.
I certainly can’t think of anyone I know who is ignorant of the dangers, though I do know some women who have allowed themselves a very occasional and small glass of wine with dinner in their last month or so (without harm to their baby, as the bouncing bubs attest).
Besides which, ordering a wine in public while obviously pregnant seems to be the quickest way to feel like a social pariah, and the condemning stares enough to make a gal relieved lynch mobs and public executions are un-Australian.
The inquiry proposes warning labels as part of a broader education campaign but also to try and get through to women who ignorantly or blithely knock back risky amounts while pregnant.
By uniting against this small measure, the industry is basically saying women should not have information at the point at which it would be most useful.
Where’s the logic? Why should some unconvincing and emotive claim weigh more than the public’s entitlement to health information which could help prevent something incurable?
The Winemakers’ Federation says it has a “rich history of social responsibility’’ - read: we’re not trying to shirk on this one, really. Another cute claim, disconnected from reality, is that wine “by its very nature, should not be abused’‘. As if Australia is a nation of snifter-sniffers. Sure, and not even winemakers get sloshed on their product. Race days and hen’s parties are the epitome of restraint, and the glasses of bubbles are just for show…
It also says it supports the NHMRC’s alcohol guidelines for pregnant women… it’s just not willing to put this into obligatory action on products.
Ok, the industry can argue it’s not its role to nursemaid the public, that drinking is a consumer choice, etc, but why should that absolve it of a social responsibility, and a pretty small one in the scheme of things?
Does the industry have economic modeling showing sales would plummet? I doubt it.
Maybe warning labels won’t stop irresponsible and complacent women from drinking, but it may help those hitherto ignorant of the risks make a wiser choice.
The industry should stand aside on this one. It’s not like pregnant women are a large drinking demographic, and if those inclined to have a few are uncomfortably reminded that it’s not a good idea, then all the better.
Think of it as a public service, a down payment on the nation’s future health.
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