June 23, 2021

A proposed global action plan on alcohol consumption put together by the World Health Organization is being criticized after some believed the health agency was effectively trying to ban women “of childbearing age” from being able to drink alcohol.

“World Health Organization wants to BAN all women aged 18-50 from drinking alcohol,” reads the headline of a June 17 article by the Irish Post. The WHO defines “reproductive age” as 15-49.

This is a distortion of the report’s purpose. It argued for heightened attention to alcohol intake among pregnant women and women of childbearing age, as well as other groups, but it did not propose any strict alcohol ban, nor could it enforce one.

The article was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The WHO released the first draft of the report on June 15, titled the “Global alcohol action plan 2022-2030.” The campaign aims to help lessen the harmful effects of certain levels of alcohol consumption around the world.

The report only mentions pregnancy and women of childbearing age one time, and it’s in the context of raising awareness about alcohol-related issues:

Appropriate attention should be given to prevention of the initiation of drinking among children and adolescents, prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing age, and protection of people from pressures to drink, especially in societies with high levels of alcohol consumption where heavy drinkers are encouraged to drink even more.

It also notes, “one of the most dramatic manifestations of harm to persons other than drinkers is prenatal alcohol exposure and the development of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.”

The WHO released a statement to fact-checking organization Full Fact to clarify the report, saying its goal is to bring attention to the consumption of alcohol while pregnant, even when the pregnancy is not known.

“The current draft of WHO’s global action plan does not recommend abstinence of all women who are of an age at which they could become pregnant,” the statement says. “However it does seek to raise awareness of the serious consequences that can result from drinking alcohol while pregnant, even when the pregnancy is not yet known.”

The report includes other groups, like children and adolescents, and lays out eight action areas and aims to raise awareness about alcohol-related issues, with proposed initiatives like a “World no alcohol day/week” to focus and reinforce public attention.

Our ruling

An article headline claims that the WHO is trying to ban all women between the ages of 18 and 50 from drinking alcohol.

This is an exaggeration of the WHO’s draft report. The report suggested more monitoring of alcohol consumption in some women due to the deleterious effects it can have on a fetus. But the organization did not propose that women between those ages should be banned from drinking alcohol entirely, neither could it enforce such a ban.

We rate this claim False.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for these fact checks here and more of their fact checks here.

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Samantha Putterman is a fact-checker for PolitiFact based in New York. Previously, she reported for the Bradenton Herald and the Tampa Bay Times. She is…
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