Fetal alcohol syndrome is a devastating problem in Alaska, so state Senate Finance Committee co-chairman Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, has made it his personal mission to stamp it out. This week, in an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, he described the ways he plans to clamp down on the problem, including spending "a lot of money" on media campaigns and providing publicly funded pregnancy tests in Alaska's bars and restaurants, so that women will be discouraged from shooting whiskey if they find out they're pregnant. But make no mistake: Kelly is not interested in providing state-funded birth control in public places. He says that "birth control is for people who don't necessarily want to act responsibly" and that would amount to "social engineering."
Providing pregnancy tests in bars isn't an entirely new concept. In 2012, a pub in Minnesota got national attention for installing a vending machine that dispensed pregnancy tests at $3 a pop—but the tests weren't state-funded. Kelly envisions the government contracting with a nonprofit to make the tests widely available at places that serve alcohol. As he explains, "So if you're drinking, if you're out at the big birthday celebration and you're kind of like, 'Gee, I wonder if I…?' You can just go in the bathroom and there should be a plastic, Plexiglas bowl in there, and that's part of the public relations campaign, too. You're going to have some kind of card on there with a message."
The interviewer asked Kelly whether he would also support offering state-funded birth control in bars. Alaska does not accept federal money from the government's Medicaid expansion, which would fund contraception, and state Sen. Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River) recently spoke out against it, declaring that if people can afford lattes, they can afford birth control. In response to the birth control question posed by Anchorage Daily News, Kelly said he wouldn't support it:
No, because the thinking is a little opposite. This assumes that if you know, you'll act responsibly. Birth control is for people who don't necessarily want to act responsibly. That's—I'm not going to tell them what to do, or help them do it, that's their business. But if we have a pregnancy test, because someone just doesn't know. That's probably a way we can help them.
When the interviewer pointed out that using birth control could be seen as being responsible, Kelly replied: "Maybe, maybe not. That's a level of social engineering that we don't want to get into. All we want to do is make sure that people are informed and they'll make the right decision." He then said that lawmakers would consider, down the road, discussing involuntarily commitment if someone "is damning [her] child to a lifetime of mental problems and physical problems." But he added, "We haven't gone down that road far enough to make a decision."