The World Health Organization’s already damaged reputation took another blow when the media revealed that its “Global Alcohol Action Plan 2022-2030” sought to prevent all women of childbearing age to forgo alcohol consumption to reduce the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome. Left-leaning “fact checkers” attempted to debunk that charge, but the language is clear: “Appropriate attention should be given to prevention of the initiation of drinking among children and adolescents, prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing age…” (see p.17)

What’s the big deal about this advice? It’s another example of public health organizations infantilizing adults and offering overly broad advice, with little regard for personal freedom or autonomy. 

Of course, everyone agrees that pregnant women and women who hope to get pregnant should be aware of the dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a serious and irreversible medical condition that inflicts 40,000 babies in the United States each year and 119,000 babies worldwide with crippling disabilities. It is a condition that could be eradicated if all pregnant women abstained or strictly limited alcohol consumption. A public education campaign could play an important role in achieving this worthy goal.

Yet the public education campaign should actually seek to educate people, not needlessly restrict people’s behavior. The WHO guidance ignores that millions of women do not plan to have children, are unable to have children, and have the knowledge and capacity to make decisions related to their health given their unique understanding of the likelihood that they might be or become pregnant. Women do not need to abstain from alcohol consumption for more than three decades to prevent potential harm during pregnancy and breastfeeding— activities which, for the overwhelming majority of women, impact them for a couple of years at most. As a mother of five, I know that one can abstain from alcohol when it’s necessary—even for years—but then also occasionally drink alcohol safely when one is still fertile but not pregnant or nursing.

The WHO’s guidance reflects a growing intolerance of any risk and the tendency of public health officials to place little value on personal freedom, both of which seem to be unfortunate outgrowths of the COVID era. The goal of public health policy at the beginning of the COVID response was to prevent hospitals from being overrun and to protect vulnerable communities. Today, the goal appears to be to prevent any and all COVID cases while ignoring or discounting the high human costs that come with such a lofty goal, even with evidence that the lockdowns have led to a surge in depression, suicide, and substance abuse.

We can’t yet tally the full toll of COVID closures, given that the impact of delaying preventative medicine, prohibiting the treatment of chronic illnesses, discouraging physical activity (including eliminating physical education and sports programs for kids, many of whom will likely never resume those activities), and the cost of mental health problems caused by isolation and tech addiction, won’t be known for years to come.

Beyond this missed cost-benefit analysis is the very basic concept of the proper role of government in meddling in people’s private lives. It’s ironic since the media and political left often allude to Republicans and conservatives as wanting to create a “handmaid’s tale” society in which women are treated purely as incubators for the next generation. Conservative suggestions that our culture ought to discourage teen drinking, drug use, or sexual intercourse was seen as laughably naive and futile by the media and liberals of yesterday.

Today it’s the left that proposed draconian limits on people’s behavior. They continue to seek to prevent people from gathering in large groups, require people to keep their faces covered, and deny consenting adults from entering bars, clubs, and concert venues. Leftist bureaucracies and governments today believe it’s their business to restrict people’s behaviors, and treat them as helpless children who need overly broad rules to keep them safe. 

When did the left give up on the core tenet of self-determination and personal freedom? 

Women do not need to forgo alcohol consumption for thirty-plus years to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome. It is always wise to take care of yourself, to reasonably limit alcohol consumption, to abstain from drug and cigarette use, and to eat a healthy and balanced diet. This guidance is particularly important when you are or are planning to become pregnant. But let’s not treat women—or adults generally—as children who are unable to make judgements and weigh risks on their own. Let’s reject the paternalism being offered by the WHO and other government entities who seek to control people in the name of promoting health.