Alcohol during Pregnancy, FAS, and Sterilization

I came across a rather interesting article earlier today, and have spent a fair amount of time pondering it.  I am pro-choice.  Not because I think that abortion is a great thing or a means of birth control, but because I believe that our bodies are our own sovereign territory.  No one has the right to tell us what we can do with our bodies.  (I’m not interested in opening a debate on abortion.  So let’s not go there.)

Of course, alcohol during pregnancy can open up a whole other can of worms.  It’s common knowledge that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a baby to be born with fetal alcohol syndrome.  Of course, how much alcohol during pregnancy will cause fetal alcohol syndrome is of debate.  The North American standard seems to be “we don’t know how much it takes, so let’s just be safe and don’t have any alcohol at all during pregnancy.”

Alcohol during Pregnancy, FAS, and Sterilization (Cloth Diaper Addicts)That doesn’t, of course, mean that you should run out and have a blind panic if you had a few margaritas during Super Bowl before you got your positive.  What’s done is done, so there’s no point in stressing about it.  After all, we’re supposed to avoid stress during pregnancy, anyway.  Besides, there are some doctors in North America and Europe who will tell you that there’s nothing wrong with the occasional glass of wine to help you sleep or what have you.

(Please note that I am not advocating any form of drinking during pregnancy, nor am I saying that it’s a super bad thing.  I am not expressing any opinion on the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy whatsoever.  That’s between you, your conscience, and your doctor.)

What does interest me is the question asked by Dr. Gifford-Jones in an article on a Vancouver news site.  Should women who deliver FAS children be sterilized?  The reasons behind the question being asked in the article are many.  Women who have one child with fetal alcohol syndrome often go on to have more babies afflicted with this neurological disorder.  These children grow up to be disadvantaged in the courts system.

As much as I believe that no one has the right to tell us what we do to our bodies, once we make a decision to carry a baby to term, then that means that we must put the welfare of that growing life ahead of our own desires.  Choosing to have a baby is just that: a choice.  However unwilling I am to say that I don’t have the right to determine if you do or do not have a baby, it just seems terribly flawed that someone would choose to have that baby only to destroy its chances with excessive drinking during pregnancy.

Having one child with fetal alcohol syndrome can be a mistake of youth and ignorance.  But when a woman goes on to have multiple children with fetal alcohol syndrome, then that means that she knows perfectly well what caused it.  She just doesn’t care, or she has such a powerful addiction that she can’t give it up.

Because of the tendency for women to have multiple children with FAS, the article questions if it they should be sterilized.  On one hand, I would love to say that they absolutely should lose their reproductive rights.  But on the other hand, that goes against my belief that my body is no one else’s business but my own.

Plus, it opens a slippery slope.  First, the decision is that women who have more than one child with FAS is sterilized.  Then it moves to drug addicts.  Then people with chronic mental disorders.  Then on to women with physical ailments that can be passed on.  Where does it stop?

If there was a magic number that determined when your baby was likely to develop FAS or any other sort of defect, it would be great.  But there isn’t.  That means that it’s up to us to make the right decisions for our bodies, and by extension, for our offspring.

Do you think that women with a history of having children with fetal alcohol syndrome should be sterilized?

Originally written on February 13, 2010 for What to Expect.

About Suzi

Suzi is an American ex-pat living in British Columbia. She's a cloth diaper addict, wife, mom of three, and President of the Prince George chapter of Cloth for a Cause.


  1. J Shallow-Miller says:

    Interesting post, but I tend to shy away from controversial topics that I don’t feel confident in that I have enough knowledge to share my opinion.

  2. Leah Blomberg Johnson says:

    I actually find it hard to comment on this because I have strong pro-life views.

    • I totally get that… but I’m not sure if I understand what pro-life views have to do with forced/court mandated sterilization?

      • Kerrie McLoughlin says:

        Because if you are Catholic, like myself, sterilization is not okay. And it goes along with being pro-life and welcoming life in general.

        • Love the article Suzi, makes one think which I know was your only intent. Kerri – your previous comment would have me think you are the woman who was on welfare for 3 yrs and had 2 abortions… given your strong pro-life convictions, I am confused. Could you clarify?

          • Kerrie McLoughlin says:

            Kara, I was not Catholic or anything when I did what I did. I was an abused wife who did not want to bring kids into that situation. I turned Catholic many years later and discovered Natural Family Planning so there are not more unplanned pregnancies … I was never on welfare. I have always been able to find something to do to make money when we need it. Now it’s writing/editing online while homeschooling my kiddles!

        • That makes sense. Thanks for clarifying!

  3. Kerrie McLoughlin says:

    Sure, why not. And then we can also sterilize women who have been on welfare for over 3 years and women who have had 2 abortions. In that case, I never would have gone on to have my beautiful family of 5 kids with my great husband of 15 years! This is a tough one; good post … I write about this sort of thing often myself and the comments are astounding!

    • It’s like… on one hand, I get it because if she’s not willing to take the care to bring her children into the world safely, then she shouldn’t have them. But that’s my moral outrage at an individual talking. If I look at the big picture, though, that’s when we start getting into eugenics, which is an awful, scary thing.

      • Kerrie McLoughlin says:

        I suppose there is a reason for everything. There are many crappy people who are the product of a Perfect Upbringing Situation. There are many amazing people who were born with FAS or something equally as horrid.

        • Anne Sweden says:

          And that’s really the ultimate issue. It’s a human life. Give it a chance. We can’t say for sure what the future will bring. I’m more hopeful, I guess, and not fatalistic. I also think that we often avoid hard issues (i.e. alcohol abuse during pregnancy) by coming up with “quick fixes” (i.e. abortion or sterilization, instead of getting to the heart of the issue which is – a woman desperately needs help and hope.

  4. Alaina Bullock says:

    Interesting topic. But it’s like you said, if we allow this, where will it stop? It won’t.

  5. Jennifer Van Huss says:

    Tough call. Its not fair to those poor children. But I agree your body is your own. Very hard decision

  6. Alyca Green says:

    Maybe there just needs to be a simple prerequisite for ANYONE before they can have kids, that would be a perfect world right. We have to take a test to get our drivers license and a test to be proven competent enough to be allowed kids? Maybe a lot of moms would agree to be sterilized…

    Im glad that you posted about this, I think its good to read about all kinds of opinions whether they are the same as our own or not.

  7. Trista M. Laborn says:

    Tough subject! Everyone has a right to their decision!

  8. Jenny Meer Hodges says:

    Whoa! Tough subject!! I don’t think it’s up to the government to tell anyone what they can do with their body, so sterilization for FAS would be a big NO in my book.

  9. Lauren S. says:

    I can think of a lot of other reasons, beside drinking during pregnancy, why some women should be sterilized. At the end of the day, it will never happen in the US, so I’m not too concerned about the government issuing any kind of edict. While I think FAS is terrible, I think mandatory rehab for alcoholism/drug abuse is a better way to go…

  10. Anne Sweden says:

    My opinion is that human sterilization (except in cases of dire medical need), whether by mandate or by choice, is unnatural and a mutilation of the body since it does violence to a natural, healthy process. So in regards to this particular question, I would say “no.” I also believe in forgiveness, rehabilitation and second chances, which leads me again to answer “no” to the question.

  11. I think we’d all be better served (and less violated) if we could put whatever resources would go into a sterilization program toward education and treatment. Oh, and more actual research, of course. I had a glass of wine occasionally-to-regularly in my pregnancy and felt mostly fine about it because of the research done mostly in Europe, showing that you basically have FAS only in cases of binge drinking or several drinks per day. The whole “not a single drop” campaign is demeaning to women – like we can’t make the distinction between a single drink and getting drunk, so let’s just tell them no drinks are allowed at all. Few of us are that dumb!

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