The United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence wants to test all pregnant women to see if they’ve been smoking. Any woman who tests positive for smoking will be offered help and counseling on how to stop.
Woah. That’s a sticky wicket. Midwives in Britain are protesting the move, saying it will make pregnant smokers feel guilty. Which on the one hand is true, and on the other hand, maybe they should?
There are real, lasting health issues for mother and child when a woman smokes during pregnancy. Shouldn’t women be advised about these risks and supported in stopping?
Obviously, yes. But mandatory drug testing is a pretty disrespectful way to “help” expectant moms give up their cigs. As Feministing puts it:
This doesn’t just make women feel guilty, the assumption is that that she is guilty – and that pregnant women can’t be trusted to tell the truth about their health and habits to their doctors.
Yes, smoking is bad for women and for babies, and in some ways particularly bad for pregnant women and unborn babies. I can’t even argue that women who smoke are exercising their freedom of choice to do so. Tobacco companies spend big money coercing people to make terrible choices for themselves and their families, creating addictions that left unchecked will kill their users. There’s a strong argument to be made for intervening and helping someone who’s been sucked into that system, whether they want the help or not.
However, I’ve been a pregnant woman. I’ll never forget the liquor store clerk who busted me buying non-alcoholic beer for a holiday party and asked me to pray to God for the strength to resist my depraved impulse to drink the stuff. I mean, yes, non-alcoholic beer is repulsive, and my craving for it was depraved. But not because it contains a tiny residual amount of alcohol.
There’s a kind of public hysteria about what women do with their bodies during pregnancy that I simply can’t endorse. Yes, we’re creating the future in our wombs. But you’ll just have to trust us to do it in an ethical, healthy way. My body doesn’t become public property just because I’m growing a child in it.
The problem with that approach is the same as with so many legistlative impulses: where do you stop? I want no pregnant women to smoke. But start down that road and you quickly end up in murky territory about what women can do when they’re pregnant.
I’m a vegetarian, and I’d hate to have my diet legislated. I wouldn’t want to be barred from playing sports because they might pose a risk to my fetus, or required to take prenatal vitamins.
What do you think? Does the state have a vested interest in protecting the unborn from secondhand smoke, or is this stomping on pregnant women’s rights?