It Is Now Illegal to Deny a Pregnant Woman a Drink in NYC

By May Wilkerson 05/10/16

New guidelines from the city's Human Rights Commission aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination against pregnant women. 

It Is Now Illegal to Deny a Pregnant Woman a Drink in NYC
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A woman’s right to choose whether or not she carries a baby to term has been protected by law since 1973, when the Supreme Court passed Roe vs. Wade. But this hasn’t stopped all kinds of people from weighing in on what women should or shouldn’t do with their bodies while pregnant, including drinking alcohol. Until last week, bars in New York could refuse to serve pregnant women alcohol, or even ban them from entering, and restaurants could choose not to serve them raw fish. But thanks to updated guidelines released last week by the city’s Human Rights Commission, pregnant women can now choose to eat or drink whatever they want, and establishments who deny them can be penalized.

"Judgments and stereotypes about how pregnant individuals should behave, their physical capabilities, and what is or is not healthy for a fetus are pervasive in our society and cannot be used as pretext for unlawful discriminatory decisions in employment, housing, and public accommodations," say the new guidelines, which were released to help clarify a 2013 city law created to protect pregnant women in the workplace.

The law specifies that it's illegal to fire or refuse to hire or promote someone because they are pregnant, or to refuse to accept a housing application from a pregnant applicant. "Accommodation of pregnant women cannot be a favor," said Azadeh Khalili, executive director of the Commission on Gender Equity. "It is a human right and the law in New York City."

The subject of whether a moderate amount of alcohol is “safe” for pregnant women to drink has been hotly debated for decades. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that pregnant women avoid alcohol entirely, but there is no evidence to suggest that an occasional drink will do harm to unborn babies, especially after the first trimester. The same goes for eating raw fish. 

In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged sexually active women to stay away from alcohol unless they are on birth control, saying any amount of booze during pregnancy could raise the risk of a fetus being born with developmental issues. (Suffice it to say, many women were not amused by the agency's recommendation.) But despite these warnings, studies show that 10-15% of American women still drink at least a little alcohol during pregnancy.

Although heavier alcohol intake has been linked to a higher likelihood of birth defects and developmental issues, as well as a higher risk of premature birth and other potential problems, either way, Human Rights Commission officials have ruled it’s a woman’s body, and therefore, a woman’s choice.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.