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Books, Journals, New Media
February 2, 2005

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Author Affiliations

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; Journal Review Editor: Brenda L. Seago, MLS, MA, Medical College of Virginia Campus, Virginia Commonwealth University.

JAMA. 2005;293(5):623-629. doi:10.1001/jama.293.5.627

In Conceiving Risk, Bearing Responsibility, Elizabeth Armstrong examines a long history of social and political factors shaping the medicalization of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and its effect on public health policy. The relationship between maternal alcohol use and fetal problems has been a topic of inquiry and often of concern for centuries, influenced by views of alcohol and social disorder, eugenics, and reproductive politics.

The three decades following repeal of Prohibition, however, represented a break with earlier thought, with the leading medical and alcohol researchers asserting that the evidence did not warrant concerns about drinking during pregnancy. During the 1960s and through the 1970s, ethanol was even used to prevent preterm labor. The book discusses how the increase in per capita consumption, social acceptance of women’s drinking, the definition of alcoholism as a disease in the 1950s, and even the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous all facilitated this change in focus. The “rediscovery” of alcohol’s role in pregnancy in the 1970s, with the medical definition of FAS, coincided with increased attention to other gender and reproductive issues, including the Roe vs Wade decision and concerns about the fetal “environment,” ranging from thalidomide and maternal rubella to larger environmental toxins.

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