Alaska News

Compass: Pregnancy tests in bars and restaurants aim to empower women and eradicate FASD

Children prenatally exposed to alcohol face devastating, permanent, and irreversible lifelong disabilities. Alcohol acts as a solvent on brain cells in the process of forming. If the mother drinks on the day the baby's brain is forming, cells required for memory, doing math, or even just reading social cues get washed away. Parts of the brain needed for specific functions never form so medicine or surgery can't fix the problem. That's why the effects are irreversible.

The human cost of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is staggering and families dealing with it know only too well the day-by-day, even minute-by-minute struggles associated with the disorder. Despair and suicide are often the outcomes of FASD and it can only be described as a tragedy -- even though some families find the grace to triumph, as in the touching story of the mother who adopted three kids with FASD from a woman who gave birth to nine FASD children.

This is not a problem to be managed around the edges - FASD needs to be eradicated. Through my senate office, we have initiated a plan which enlists private enterprise, government and communities to take this plague head on.

Who could be against that? Apparently, bloggers and political opportunists. After a lifetime of politics and anger, they have no ideas of their own and can only attack. They are frantically trying to turn this into a "war on women." That is absurd.

Part of our plan is to put pregnancy tests in bars and restaurants under the assumption that if a woman knows she's pregnant she will stop drinking. This is part of a proposed academic study by two universities to test the effectiveness of this approach.

A reporter, a good guy might I add, posited the idea that some say we should be encouraging birth control as a solution. I told him a pregnancy test is for people that will act responsibly.

Here's why that statement makes sense. The fact is 90-percent of women stop drinking as soon as they know they're pregnant, which we can all agree is responsible. However, if you drink and rely on contraception, but you forget, or you administer it wrong, or it just fails, you may produce a baby cursed with FASD. That is irresponsible.


Pregnancy tests are about empowering women with knowledge so they can make informed decisions regarding their health and the health of their child. No woman wants to inflict FASD on her child. Calling this a "war on women" is nonsensical.

Let me be clear: the mission of Empowering Hope is to eliminate FASD in Alaska, and if that means using contraception as a tool - then we'll use it. But people need to understand, contraception is probably not the answer. The answer is to stop drinking during pregnancy, and contraception can do nothing to protect the baby already developing in the womb of a mother who is drinking.

I invite the bloggers and opportunists to join with my Democrat friends who support this non-partisan effort. I was proud andgrateful to have nearly unanimous Democrat co-sponsorship ofone of my bills associated with this effort.

In the meantime, FASD continues to devastate the economic and social fabric of Alaska. Our state reports the highest prevalenceof Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in the United States, with an average of 124 diagnosed babies per year. Due to the lack of effective FASD screening in Alaska, we can easily assume this number is much higher.

Each child born with FASD will cost the state in the range of $860,000 to $4.2 million from birth to age 18. With over124 children born with FASD annually, this means that, at a minimum, Alaska takes out a $100 million mortgage dedicated to this plague every year. And we do this for something that is 100-percent preventable.

In the end, Alaska will succeed and FASD will become a distant memory like diphtheria, TB, or polio babies. Those who could only shout criticisms from the bleachers will have wished they had gotten in the game.

Sen. Pete Kelly represents Senate District B in Fairbanks and currently serves as co-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.