Earlier this month, a review published by the Cochrane Library criticised the idea of ‘eating for two’ while pregnant, suggesting that doing so would affect foetal development and increase the likelihood of obesity in the child. At the weekend, the British Medical Association said it plans to revise all previous advice given to pregnant women, and will now inform them that the consumption of any alcohol while pregnant will have a negative effect on the child.
Why doesn’t the BMA just come out and say that it doesn’t want pregnant women to have any fun? The continual revision of medical advice to make it fit with our health-obsessed culture is impacting on all our lives, through smoking bans, drinking limits and calorie warnings on eclairs. But no one is monitored as much as pregnant women. Most expecting mothers want to do what is best for their child. Yet from the moment of conception, women embark on an interminable battle with their doctors and midwives, magazines, health books and the state, and must surrender their bodies to the ongoing scrutiny of our wellbeing-obsessed culture.
Any woman who is hoping to have a child will undoubtedly be concerned about the process of pregnancy. And it is ludicrous to think that women would go through nine months of sickness, backache and eventual incapacitation just to harm their baby before it is even born. Yet the fearmongering around pregnancy, and the attempt to control what women eat, drink and do while expecting, has gone largely unchallenged. The disgust at seeing a pregnant woman in a pub or smoking a cigarette is shared by all ages – everyone seems to think they know better than the pregnant woman herself what is in her best interests.
There are certain things that have been proved by science to have a detrimental affect on foetal development: chain-smoking and serious alcoholism or drug abuse will inevitably affect a pregnancy as much as they will the woman indulging in such activities. But increasingly, all sorts of non-harmful, occasional activities are being lumped in with such dangerous behaviour under the banner ‘harmful to the fetus’.
This extends to all aspects of a woman’s reproductive process. It’s easy to assume that abortion is free and legal in this country, but in order to get one a woman has to ask the permission of two doctors and prove that a pregnancy would cause considerable harm to her mental or physical wellbeing, rather than simply deciding she doesn’t want to be pregnant. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service has criticised the current process that women have to go through to get the morning-after pill. The pill costs £34.95 in some pharmacies. And the woman has to endure a medical consultation before she is given it. That is essentially a conversation about bringing on a period, as the morning-after pill is only effective up to 120 hours after sex.
Where is the uproar? There are no pregnancy walks or Twitter hashtags supporting women having a glass of wine when they like. We should be arguing for scientific sense to prevail so that women can decide for themselves how they should behave, based on fact rather than feeling. Contemporary feminism doesn’t seem interested in women’s experiences, unless it’s something to do with sex, weight or eating on the tube. Never mind being able to wear a mini skirt or whether someone compliments your bum – the real threat to women’s autonomy comes when they’re potential child-bearers. The lack of control pregnant women have over their own bodies is too often ignored by prominent feminist campaigners.
Women still do not have full reproductive rights. The removal of women’s autonomy once pregnant treats them as baby-making machines, in need of proper servicing, but second to the end product. Those who truly believe in women’s liberty should resist these very real impositions on our freedom and leave behind all the preoccupation with clothes, weight loss and wolf whistles.