Free Pregnancy Tests and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

fetal-alcohol-syndromeFetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): When a woman binge drinks, meaning consuming four or more drinks, while she is pregnant can lead to brain damage in the fetus, later resulting in cognitive, developmental, and behavioral problems during childhood. FAS occurs in 20,000 to 200,000 cases per year in the United States.

The state of Alaska is funding the project conducted by University of Alaska Anchorage. With $400,000, the project is setting up free pregnancy test dispensers in the bathrooms of local bars for the next two years. The idea is to remind women who are out drinking to get tested as a means to decrease the likelihood of women drinking while unknowingly pregnant. Many women understand that drinking while pregnant could result in damage; however, the research shows that there are still many women who drink during the early stages of pregnancy and that many women drink not knowing that they are pregnant, all of which can contribute to fetal alcohol syndrome. If the project is successful, spending on healthcare services and childcare services for children with fetal alcohol syndrome could be greatly reduced. The state of Alaska shows statistics that over 120 infants born every year are affected with FAS or FAS-related symptoms.

While we are struggling with a lot of reproductive rights issues at the moment, such as the 20-week abortion ban and mandating health insurances to provide birth control options at no cost, the project in Alaska is a big step forward not just for reproductive rights but also for health by focusing on preventative measures rather than treatment for when it happens.

While the focus is to decrease FAS, it will be interesting to see how pregnancy rates will change with the introduction of free pregnancy tests. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ranked Alaska #11 out of 51 states (including the District of Columbia) in terms of teenage births among females aged 15-19. The ranking stands as one being the highest rate and 51 ranked as the lowest rate. While the pregnancy tests are set up in bars, targeting women who are either at or above the legal drinking age, it would be interesting to see if the project can expand and offer free pregnancy tests not just in bars but in other places, such as schools, pharmacies, and grocery stores, in order to target a broader female audience, such as older women, or women who do not necessarily frequent bars, or the teenage girl demographic. While the program is projected to decrease FAS and health concerns in relations to FAS, there is so much more to the project, offering possibilities to expand and help make a bigger impact in women’s health issues.

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About This Blogger

Grace Kim

Grace Kim is currently a student at Arizona State University studying Biology with a concentration in Biology and Society. She is primarily interested in women’s health and hopes to pursue a career in science policy and/or science communications after graduate school. She enjoys learning about history, astronomy, and microbiology, and besides writing, she likes to bake, sew, and read in her spare time.