Did the Washington Post Lie?

You may or may not be familiar with the original story the Washington Post ran, stating that the federal government had come out with a new guideline advising women to think of themselves as pre-pregnant at all times: that means, live their entire menstrual lives as if they were pregnant, just in case, so any unplanned fetus will be healthy. This would mean no drinking, very few medications of any sort, no being around cat feces, and for heaven’s sake, no fat chicks. Of course, no mention was made of the fact that alcohol, drugs and poor nutrition can affect sperm production for years into the future, which means no man of sperm producing age (that’s what? 13 to 120?) should be doing this stuff either.

Guess what?

There is no new federal guideline. The Post, in a drive to score themselves some profitable attention, has twisted an existing CDC report to enflame the battle between people who hold women solely accountable for the well-being of children and fetuses, and people who realize that men have quite a bit to do with it, too. From the original CDC report, with emphasis added by me:

The goal of these recommendations is to improve the health of women and couples, before conception of a first or subsequent pregnancy. Since the early 1990s, guidelines have recommended preconception care, and reviews of previous studies have assessed the evidence for interventions and documented the evidence for specific interventions.

The CDC report doesn’t advise social policy. It just points out how men, women and doctors can work to ensure healthy pregnancies and babies. As Amanda at Pandagon points out:

So the recommendation is not to scold all women between 12 and 60 never to drink or smoke or own a fucking cat. In fact, while there’s not a lot of language in the actual report condoning social control of all women as a health care initiative, there’s a whole shitload of suggestions to doctors that they discuss the importance of spacing children and preventing unplanned pregnancies. Prepregnancy visits are also encouraged, which again indicates that these guidelines are more about doctors telling women to take conception and pregnancy seriously than they are trying to imply that doctors should assume all women are equal pregnancy risk.

And the report specifically singles out the fact that many women can’t afford to see a doctor on a regular basis as a factor contributing to infant health problems.

So why did the Post choose to paint this story as if the Feds were re-classifying women as wombs instead of people? Because it’s controversial, and controversy sells. And if the article causes a marriage to break up because a husband assumes a tragic miscarriage was due to the wife selfishly cleaning the litter box, that’s not the Post’s problem. Or if an eleven-year old girl shrugs and has sex because she figures if the Feds consider her “pre-pregnant”, they must expect her to be having sex, that’s not the Post’s problem. And if potential fathers assume it’s okay for them to shoot heroin while they’re trying to conceive because the Feds said it’s all on the woman to keep that baby healthy, that’s not the Post’s problem.

The Post views women as a tool for profit, and views the press as having no responsibility to society whatsoever.


  1. SunlessNick says

    “The recommendations aim to “increase public awareness of the importance of preconception health” and emphasize the “importance of managing risk factors prior to pregnancy,”

    The recommendations aim to decrease public acceptance of women’s bodily autonomy and emphasise their role as baby machines.


  2. baskerville says

    However, I’ve recently read an Lj entry on this subject where the LJ owner–who suffers seizures–couldn’t get the medication that worked best for her because it was known to cause birth defects. Even though she had a child, wanted no more, and had lost so much weight on the drug she’d been prescribed instead that she probably wouldn’t have been able to carry a baby safely to term anyway.

    A number of other women replied to the entry with similar stories and also of having sterilization procedures denied because their doctor thought they “need more children” or would want some in the future.

    Even if the CDC uses no woman=embryo-oven language, people who want to think so will interpret it as such regardless.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    I read that story too, or one like it. The medical industry is all over the place in regards to women. In the 80’s, doctors were recommending hysterectomies to women who complained about PMS. Now this.

    Where I do fault the CDC report is in their failure to mention that birth defects are caused by mutated sperm, and mutated sperm are produced for years after a man has stopped taking medications, drinking, using illegal drugs, etc. The way eggs are stored in a woman’s body ensures that they can’t be compromised until fertilization.

    I have no problem with the CDC educating women who wish to become pregnant on how to take care of themselves – if I wanted to get pregnant, I’d be grateful for the resource. But I do think the report is incomplete for failing to mention the care prospective fathers need to take. But maybe the CDC’s target audience doesn’t want to hear that.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m not sure how you get that from the quote you posted. I’m all for the CDC offering guidelines to women who WANT to get pregnant. I don’t see in their report an inference that we all need to rearrange our lives around that goal.

    But maybe it’s a matter of perspective. In the 80’s, the Feds were commissioning reports on the “man shortage” and the low, low chances of a woman over 35 ever getting married. It was all complete bullshit, of course, but the whole point was to panic women into marrying the first bit of pondscum they came across and catering feverishly to his every desire.

    After that sort of thing, it’s hard for me to read much of a patriarchal agenda into the CDC report.

  5. scarlett says

    It not only fails to mention the role of prospective fathers, by putting the onus on the woman, it makes it all her responsibility – and therefor, all her fault.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *