If you happen to find yourself at a bar in Alaska anytime after December of this year, you may see something unusual in the bathrooms: free pregnancy tests.
The free tests are part of a two-year, $400,000 University of Alaska initiative aimed at tackling the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome across the state. Alaska has the highest rate of fetal alcohol syndrome in the country; women of child-bearing age in Alaska are 20% more likely to binge drink than the national average.
Alaska's free pregnancy tests have gotten a ton of media attention. Skeptics have taken to the comments section of a variety of news articles to voice opinions, ranging from: "What a waste!" to "Pathetic approach. Stick with Planned Parenthood, healthy living, healthy food, solid education (for girls & boys), and improved healthcare."
But the media attention and stream of online comments are exactly the point, says Jody Allen Crowe, the man behind the idea of free pregnancy tests in bars. He takes the criticisms in stride, pointing to the fact that he's started a national conversation around the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome. Crowe, who founded a Minnesota non-profit and spearheaded similar initiatives in other areas, understands the skepticism.
"When I started talking about this, I got some giggles," Crowe told Fusion. "And then one nurse said, 'Well, why don't you give it a try?"
He did give it a try. Crowe distributed pregnancy tests at a bar in Mankato, Minnesota, a small college town. And the response was overwhelming.
Dispenser located in a bar on the campus of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario
"I sent out some posters to local media and that day was just crazy," Crowe said. "It attracted attention. It was so outside of the typical prevention effort."
The issue of alcohol in Alaska is such that The Anchorage Daily News is working on a year-long project called "State of Intoxication: Alaska and Alcohol". The project is meant to address specific problems and find solutions. Drinking and pregnancy is one of the most pressing issues; there's evidence that women in Alaska are drinking while pregnant at a higher rate than ever before.
Now that people are becoming increasingly aware of fetal alcohol syndrome and the dangers of drinking while pregnant, Crowe hopes the conversation continues to evolve as states follow Alaska's lead.
"My whole intent is this: in five years, women who are sexual active make sure they're not pregnant before having a drink," Crowe said. He envisions a future in which taking a pregnancy test before going out will be as common as finding a designated driver (DD).
He even came up with a working slogan: "Who's our DD and did all the gals pee pee?"
Alaska's free pregnancy test initiative will begin in December in 20 bars across the state.
Alexandra DiPalma is a producer for Fusion Lightworks, Fusion’s In-house Branded Content Agency.