A British pregnancy charity has hit back at World Health Organisation (WHO) advice suggesting women of 'child-bearing age' should not drink alcohol.
Criticising the suggestion, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) says it risks 'hard-won women's rights' in making an attempt to control their bodies and choices.
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The charity, which advocates affordable and high-quality services to prevent or end unwanted pregnancies, also slams the recommendation as 'treating women as little more than vessels'.
BPAS then highlight a lack of consensus regarding whether 'low to mid-level alcohol consumption during pregnancy is actually harmful' before calling out the international public health body for ignoring statistics on alcohol-fuelled sexual assaults and domestic violence.
In the report, WHO urge governments to give "appropriate attention" to the fact that prenatal alcohol exposure is one of the "most dramatic manifestations of harm to persons other than drinkers."
Meanwhile, it illustrates alcohol use contributed to 2.3 million deaths of men in 2016, compared to 0.7 million deaths of women across the world.
A statement from BPAS read: "It is extremely disturbing to see the World Health Organization risk hard-won women’s rights by attempting to control their bodies and choices in this way.
"By treating all women – for 40 years of their lives – as little more than vessels, the WHO reduces women to little more than their reproductive capabilities.
"Currently there is no consensus regarding whether low to mid-level alcohol consumption during pregnancy is actually harmful, so to extend this messaging back into the “pre-pregnant” period, regardless of individual pregnancy intention, is completely absurd."
It continued: "In a 37-page document the WHO undervalues and undermines the rights of women to control their bodies. By declaring that a foetus is a person distinct from the pregnant woman – claiming prenatal alcohol exposure is ‘one of the most dramatic manifestations of harm to persons other than drinkers’ - WHO actively ascribes foetuses rights they do not have in law.
“We recognise that alcohol can have serious effects on society as a whole – but at no point does this action plan address its true impact on women. In the UK alone, more than a third of sexual assaults, more than 39% of all violent crimes, and nearly 1 in 5 incidents of domestic abuse are committed under the influence of alcohol. This action plan had the power to address this harm to women – but instead was silent.
“The narrative that women need to be stopped from posing a risk to foetuses – even those which do not exist - is used around the world to surveil and criminalise women making decisions during pregnancy.
"A global organisation such as WHO should recognise the power that such dangerous messaging about women’s behaviour carries, and should be more alert to the impact of these statements. We urge them to review this document as a matter of urgency.”
NHS England advise the "safest approach" is to not drink alcohol at all while expecting as "experts are still unsure exactly how much – if any – alcohol is completely safe to have while pregnant."
"The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum," NHS advice states.
A spokesperson told the Independent : “The overall objective of WHO’s public health work with regard to alcohol is to protect health and prevent health conditions that result from its harmful use.
“The current draft of WHO’s global action plan does not recommend abstinence of all women who are of an age at which they could become pregnant. However it does seek to raise awareness of the serious consequences that can result from drinking alcohol while pregnant, even when the pregnancy is not yet known.”
The M.E.N has contacted WHO for a comment.