Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

Why law should be on side of barman, not drunk mum-to-be

Bad look: dangers of excessive drinking
Bad look: dangers of excessive drinking

There are always plenty of people to tell you what you should and shouldn't do when you're pregnant. It can be a bamboozling experience with lots of conflicting advice thrown at you from different, yet reliable, quarters. Eat peanuts, no don't eat peanuts. It's okay to have a little alcohol, but don't drink at all if you're wise.

Remember to take your vitamins, but don't take too many as that can also harm your baby.

There are lots of grey areas and ever-changing research so every mum-to-be can only chart her own way along the rocky road of what's best. But some areas are simply black and white – and binge drinking when you're expecting is one of them.

So my heart went out to the barman who spoke to The Nolan Show this week about the predicament he found himself in when a woman who is six months pregnant drank to excess in his pub. On moral grounds, he didn't feel his staff should have to serve a woman, who is likely doing harm to an unborn child. But, he told the radio show, on legal grounds, he wasn't allowed to refuse to serve her.

This angry publican even went as far as consulting a solicitor to see what he could do. He was stunned to hear that it was illegal for him to refuse to serve a customer alcohol on the grounds of her being pregnant. He would be guilty of discrimination on the grounds of both her gender and her 'medical' condition.

Publicans often get a hard rap as careless operators who love nothing more than pouring drink down the throats of unsuspecting customers. They're accused of selling drink to the underage and encouraging the already intoxicated with cut-price promotions.

Yet, here we have the story of a barman who is clearly trying to do what he sees as the right thing. It is, of course, not his responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of an unborn child. That is ultimately up to the mother. But the barman said he felt he was being forced into assisting someone to cause harm to a baby and I can entirely see his point.

He can refuse drink to someone he believes is too intoxicated to take any more – but he can't refuse to serve an expectant woman who is clearly not behaving responsibly.

If he served a child, he'd be done. Yet he can't act in the best interests of an unborn baby.

The question of to drink or not to drink is one for every woman has to make herself – within reason.

The research is clear. The NHS advises that pregnant women should not drink at all. However, if you do decide to, it should not be more than one or two units, no more than a couple of times a week. Drinking increases the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, heart defects, deformities, poor development and much more.

The last thing I wanted when I was pregnant was a glass of wine. I could barely keep down water. And my thought was always, why take a needless risk for the sake of one drink?

I know others who have enjoyed a very occasional glass and gone on to have a perfectly healthy baby. I can respect that choice.

But there's simply no comparison between one drink now and then and sitting in a pub necking a skinful while displaying a large baby bump.

You can only argue for personal choice and responsibility up to a certain point. Once you've crossed that point, it's reasonable for others to voice an opinion or refuse to help in any way.

If a woman can't get through nine months without the need to get plastered in a pub, perhaps she shouldn't be having a baby at all.

And if a responsible publican feels he can't tolerate that, then he should have the support of the law, not the threat of howls of discrimination breathing down his neck.

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