PIRE Publication - Forty years of state alcohol and pregnancy policies in the USA: Best practices for public health or efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights?


Short Summary: The number of states with alcohol and pregnancy policies has increased since 1970 (1 in 1974 and 43 in 2013). Alcohol and pregnancy policies are becoming increasingly punitive. These punitive policies are associated with efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights rather than policies that effectively curb alcohol-related public health harms. Aims: Alcohol consumption during pregnancy remains a public health problem despite >40 years of attention. Little is known about how state policies have evolved and whether policies represent public health goals or efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights. Methods: Our data set includes US state policies from 1970 through 2013 obtained through original legal research and from the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA)’s Alcohol Policy Information System. Policies were classified as punitive to women or supportive of them. The association between numbers of punitive policies and supportive policies in 2013 with a measure of state restrictions on reproductive rights and Alcohol Policy Effectiveness Scores (APS) was estimated using a Pearson’s correlation. Results: The number of states with alcohol and pregnancy policies has increased from 1 in 1974 to 43 in 2013. Through the 1980s, state policy environments were either punitive or supportive. In the 1990s, mixed punitive and supportive policy environments began to be the norm, with punitive policies added to supportive ones. No association was found between the number of supportive policies in 2013 and a measure of reproductive rights policies or the APS, nor was there an association between the number of punitive policies and the APS. The number of punitive policies was positively associated, however, with restrictions on reproductive rights. Conclusion: Punitive alcohol and pregnancy policies are associated with efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights rather than effective efforts to curb public health harms due to alcohol use in the general population. Future research should explore the effects of alcohol and pregnancy policies.

Roberts, Sarah
Thomas, Sue
Treffers, Ryan
Drabble, Laurie