Is Denying Pregnant Women Alcohol Discrimination?



The States are having an interesting debate on the topic of human rights and motherhood. Specifically recently released New York City guidelines have stipulated that bars and restaurants that refuse to serve pregnant women will be breaking the cities Human Rights Laws.

The document states that Pregnancy discrimination is discrimination based on gender. Most of the guidelines laid down are to protect mothers from being unfairly treated in the workplace, and ensuring they retain stable employment when they go away for a bit to have a kid.

“Unlawful policies include those that categorically exclude pregnant workers or workers who are capable of becoming pregnant from specific job categories or positions, deny entrance to pregnant individuals to certain public accommodations, or refuse to serve certain food or drinks to pregnant individuals or individuals perceived to be pregnant.”

On the other side of the coin according to ProPublica “Across the country, hundreds of pregnant women and new mothers have been accused of child abuse or other crimes when they or their newborns tested positive for controlled substances. Laws on drug testing of infants and new mothers vary, but the stakes are always high. In many places, women lose their children or end up in behind bars, sometimes even if the drug was prescribed.” Often these drug tests are done without the woman’s permission.

There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

According to the Drug Foundation “Alcohol crosses the placenta and is taken in by the developing foetus. Alcohol has been found to cause cell mutations in the foetus. This is especially true at the early stages of development (the first 30 days) but damage can occur at any point before birth.” The joint health sector agencies’ statement about not drinking during pregnancy says “There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.” so it’s better to just avoid it entirely to be on the safe side.

Alcohol Healthwatch states that there is no prevalence data on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in New Zealand but using international numbers it’s estimated that around five in 100 New Zealand children could be born with believes that the best estimates are that there are at least 600 children born each year in New Zealand with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder but that the number could very well be up to 3000.

In March of last year The Herald reported on a woman who was “flabbergasted” when she was refused some sparkling wine on her wedding anniversary. It was reported that the staff were trained to not serve pregnant women alcohol.

At least one in five (19%) New Zealand women report drinking alcohol at some time in their pregnancy and this rate is higher for younger women (28% for women aged 15 to 24-years-old) according to

So far there is no debate in New Zealand on the topic on whether it is a human right to be served alcohol while pregnant, but the resounding message here is that it’s better to be safe than sorry.



Disclaimer:  The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the FASD Prevention Conversation Project.

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