Alaska State Senator Pete Kelly (R) wants women to act responsibly, and therefore wants state-funded pregnancy tests available in the restrooms of restaurants and bars. Kelly’s rationale is that women will make better decisions about whether or not to drink if they know for certain whether or not they are pregnant.
In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Kelly, who is also the co-chair of the Alaska Senate Finance Committee, said he is declaring war on fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which is a serious problem in Alaska, particularly in rural areas. Last year Kelly created an advisory commission to look at Alaska’s substance abuse problems.
According to Kelly’s plan, the pregnancy tests would be available for free, and the plan’s effectiveness would be studied by university researchers. He wants to spend millions of state dollars on a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) awareness campaign, and also plans to recruit a network of local counselors to provide advice to women who are drinking while pregnant.
Kelly’s assumption is that if women know they are pregnant they will not drink. The idea of the availability of pregnancy tests in bars is not completely new. In 2012, a bar in Minnesota installed a pregnancy-test dispensing vending machine, but the tests were $3.00 each, not state funded.
When asked if he would support the same idea with birth control, making it available free in bars and restaurants similar to the pregnancy test proposal, the Alaska Senator said no, stating that he is against it because contraception is only for people who do not want to act responsibly.
When the Anchorage Daily News interviewer observed that birth control use could be seen as acting responsibly, Kelly said he was not sure about that, stating that we do not want to get into “that level of social engineering.” The commission just wants to make sure people are informed and will make good decisions.
Alaska opted not to accept federal money to pay for birth control under the government Medicaid expansion. Alaska State Senator Fred Dyson (R) spoke against state funded contraception recently, saying that if people can afford lattes they can afford to pay for their own birth control.
Part of Kelly’s plan is to attempt to get pregnant women who are binge drinking referred to social services to get them away from alcohol and attended to. He sees involuntary commitment as a possibility in the future, but not now. Instead they are trying to address FAS at the grassroots level.
Kay Brown, Alaska Democratic Party Executive Director, said in a statement sent to reporters that Republicans need to stop their war on Alaska women.
Senator Kelly says for every child born with FAS the lifetime cost to the public is between $860,000 and $4.2 million. Even if the state is only spending $1 million per child in their first 18 years he figures they would break even on the program’s costs if even one child was saved.
The commission has given preliminary notice to the restaurant and bar lobby, saying they do not intend to surprise anyone with the proposal. The new plan would not require bars to supply the tests, but Kelly says in the future it might be possible that supporting the state’s campaign might be a part of licensing requirements.
Kelly said the committee is not yet at the point of discussing criminal sanctions against women who binge drink while pregnant. At this time the Alaska Senator feels that making pregnancy tests readily available will help women to act responsibly when in bars or other situations that may involve drinking.
By Beth A. Balen