Pregnancy Testing in Bars

First thought: The obsession with OMG WOMEN ARE DOING SOMETHING WRONG WHILE PREGNANT is hitting new highs (lows?) when bars are offering pregnancy tests in the bathrooms to make sure that no woman ever accidentally has a glass of wine after insemination.

Second thought: This does allow women to take pregnancy tests discretely, without having to buy tests in a drug store where they may know the employees or other shoppers. It would also allow women to take pregnancy tests in a space where their partners, parents or other intimates will not discover the results — a good thing for women who may face violence, poor treatment or pressure from their partner, parent or other intimate for being pregnant (or for being pregnant and wanting to stay pregnant, or for being pregnant and wanting to end the pregnancy, or for not even being pregnant but leaving behind evidence of sex by taking a pregnancy test). And at $3 a test, they’re really really cheap – must cheaper than a drugstore pregnancy test.

Third thought: The unintended consequences might be good, but the motivation is pretty bad (“you can use a nearby toilet and learn whether you may proceed in good conscience with the martini you were about to order;” “the classy pub is a fitting location because the women at highest risk of drinking during pregnancy are professionals with disposable incomes and a proclivity for wine at dinner;” “It’s all about protecting a child” and not about, you know, making health information easily accessible to women). But does that matter? Yes, obviously it does, but how much? Enough to say the implementation is wrong? Assuming that the test won’t set off a flashing red light saying “DON’T SERVE THIS WOMAN!!!!,” the women who take pregnancy tests can still choose to drink if they test positive. There’s no requirement to take the test; it’s just on offer. On the other hand, the reason it’s on offer is because lots of folks apparently think women are walking incubators.

I guess I come down on the side of “Cheap pregnancy tests for everyone! Everywhere and not just in bars! Put them in malls and at rest stops and in fast food joints and in restaurants and in workplaces! And put condom dispensers right next to ’em! And put info about pregnancy health care and options right next to ’em too! But stop saying it’s just to protect potential babies and to stop women from making bad choices!” Also: All exclamation points, everywhere.

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Gender, Health, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to Pregnancy Testing in Bars

  1. SubjectVerb says:

    Really, it’s only the binge drinkers and people out to get DRUNK that should be concerned since those are the ones that are more likely to have children with fetal alcohol syndrome. The jury is still out on whether having a couple drinks every now and then does any harm to a fetus: Alcohol and Pregnancy: Is ‘A Little Bit’ Safe?

    I can also see bartenders saying, “Sure, I can make a Manhattan for you, ma’am, but are you sure you are pregnant?” Such thinking reduces a woman to her uterus and biological ability to have children. Women shouldn’t be assumed to be always in the state of potential pregnancy.

    • FashionablyEvil says:

      Even moderate drinking is unlikely be a problem. (Note to self: if you want to feel tremendously guilty, go look for articles about alcohol consumption during pregnancy while pregnant).

    • Bagelsan says:

      Yah, if they’re targeting actual alcoholics who are having unprotected sex, I highly doubt a bar bathroom preggo test is sufficient to make them get magically all better and mend their evil ways. :p

    • Bagelsan says:

      Yah, if they’re targeting actual alcoholics who are having unprotected sex, I highly doubt a bar bathroom preggo test is sufficient to make them get magically all better and mend their evil ways. :p

  2. FashionablyEvil says:

    When was the last time anyone actually bought something out of a bar bathroom vending machine (except for a desperate, failed attempt to get a pad or tampon)?

    • Mrs. Viking says:

      Actually, I once bought some GREAT lipgloss from a bar bathroom dispenser. I bought it cause my lips were chapped, but it turned out to be great stuff!

  3. I’ve seen the “but it’s discreet!” defense over and over. And it sounds good for a minute, until you really think about what bars are like.

    In sum: Alcohol suppresses inhibition. If you found out you’re pregnant and you’ve had even one drink, the ability to keep that information to yourself would be compromised.

    Abusers often get more abusive if they’ve been drinking. A woman who needs to be discreet because of an abuser needs to put as much space between herself and her abuser when he’s been drinking.

    Plus, most women who are that vulnerable are poorer or younger and don’t really go to bars that much anyway.

    So really, this isn’t a “yes, no, maybe” situation so much as a “upping the level of uterine policing in order to remind women that we’re wombs and not people”.

  4. Reading that article, the other thing that jumps out at me is the absolute assurance that everyone interviewed had that women who discover they’re pregnant accidentally would keep that pregnancy. Women who have abortions are Other Women, as usual. Not from Our Community.

  5. Past my expiration date says:

    the women at highest risk of drinking during pregnancy are professionals with disposable incomes and a proclivity for wine at dinner.

    A “proclivity”?

    Pregnancy tests, in a bar, in a society where the general cultural belief is ANY ALCOHOL DURING PREGNANCY BAD BAD BAD, gives me the message that all women are either pregnant or pre-pregnant.

    And if the idea is to allow women to take pregnancy tests discreetly, the machine should accept cash.

    • ColoradoSal says:

      And if the idea is to allow women to take pregnancy tests discreetly, the machine should accept cash.

      I thought the same thing. If you’re swiping a credit card to pay for it, it’s not really anonymous.

    • EG says:

      I note also that the guy says that the women with “the highest risk for drinking” not women, oh, at the highest risk for having babies with FAS. Because if it’s not about policing women’s behavior, but we really are concerned about the babies, shouldn’t we offer resources where they’re most needed, rather than haranguing women who have a glass of wine or two with dinner?

  6. cherrybomb says:

    I think I would be most comfortable taking a pregnancy test in a bar bathroom after having a glass of chardonnay. It would beat the time I took one (from the mall Dollar Tree) in the mall bathroom on my a break at my fast-food job.

    I, too, have to go with pregnancy policing= bad, while cheap, anonymous tests = good. (And chardonnay= awesome!)

  7. Mike says:

    Good that there was a second point, else I would have had to say, way to spin a free service into something negative. The fad will be over soon enough as the kits will get knicked off the bars at a frequency higher of what they intend to resupply.

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  9. vanessa says:

    as someone who is waiting for enough time to pass since insemination to even take a test…its not like the goddamn things WORK right away anyway.
    yes, cheap tests, holy fuck are those things expensive, but maybe somewhere other than a bar?

    • FashionablyEvil says:

      How much are they where you are? I got a pack of 3 on sale at Target for $10.

      • Lolagirl says:

        After going down that long, long road of infertility I can say with some authority that not all EPTs are created equally. The Clearblue tests? They gave me wonky results pretty often (like no control line but then a horizontal line without the necessary vertical one in the results window.) First Response tests are the most senstitive of the EPTs that they make, and should pick up a beta HCG level as low as 25. Most others don’t test positive until a beta of 50 or higher is reached. Another tip to pass along, many OTC ovulation tests will also show a positive result if your HCG levels are high enough. The cycle I ended up with my twins I gave it a shot and did get both a positive FR test and a positive ovulation test strip.

        Much, much cash was spent in the Girl family household on EPTs, let me tell you. Them things are spendy for sure, but you definitely get what you pay for.

        And yes, I was always way too impatient to wait for the blood test at my RE’s office.

      • cherrybomb says:

        I found the Equate brand test sold at K-Mart to be more effective than EPT brand or First Response. Go figure– a more effective bargain brand test.

      • Kierra says:

        I’ve been using the generic test strips (Wondfo) from Amazon, which are loads cheaper than anything you can get at stores. Of course, given that I have yet to get anything remotely resembling a positive, I have no idea how well they work. But the LH tests from the same brand have worked great. And buying them online gets around the stigma of buying them in person, plus they come in packets that you have to really look at to realize what they are.

  10. pheenobarbidoll says:

    Can’t say I’d be disappointed to have booze so close upon that unwelcome discovery.

    Fuck. I’m pregnant.

    Oh thank god. Tequila.

  11. Litta says:

    I’m really not understanding why this is supposedly dehumanizing and erasing your personhood or whatever.

    The existence of pregnancy tests in a bar, presumably put there because of at least some small demand or (even novelty) interest, is “proof” that society sees you as nothing but a walking uterus?

    Are you presuming that this is

    A) widespread, and
    B) planned and executed entirely by capital-M Men against the wishes of women

    • Anon21 says:

      B) planned and executed entirely by capital-M Men against the wishes of women

      Come on, this is just a dumb strawman. Sexism is no less sexist for being the product of unconscious attitudes.

  12. marc sobel says:

    I assumed the purpose was to tell if the rape you experienced was legitimate or not.

  13. EG says:

    I honestly don’t get the point. If I’m in the bar bathroom, odds are that I’ve already had a drink or two, and I just don’t see why I would see the machine, think “hey, my period is a couple days late,” and swipe my card. The other stuff that gets sold in bathroom vending machines, you could need unexpectedly–condoms, tampons, pantyhose (I once saw), fine, I can see how a person would need any of those without having realized it. How on earth do you spontaneously need a pregnancy test? If my period is late, I know it already.

    • Lolagirl says:

      Maybe in those fancy restrooms where they have a lady to hand you a paper towel and that have an assortment of mints and hair care products on the vanity they would offer them for free?

      Or maybe only on the weekends.

      Yeah, I so don’t see the point of selling EPTs in the lady’s loo.

    • (BFing)Sarah says:

      Yeah, the last time I was concerned that I was pregnant (and did not want to be), I was definitely not rushing out to the bars to then take a pregnancy test in a public place in a dirty public bathroom. No thanks. And what are you doing while you are waiting for the results? Sitting on the loo, freaking the fuck out? No thanks. I wanted to be all alone in my house so that if it said positive I could cry and cry and then scream at the top of my lungs. That’s just my take. I don’t see the appeal. AND I just saw a commercial for EPT while I was writing this and it said E.P.T.: “Erase Panic Today.” Its like the T.V. read my mind!

      I guess its a good thing to have cheap tests, but I don’t know who would actually use them for anything other than novelty/laughs…then again that would be truly awful if you took a test just for laughs (“Oh my GAWD, PREGnancy tests!! Lets take one!! LOLs!”) and it was unexpectedly positive. I feel ill just thinking about that.

    • Henry says:

      The whole thing is really a gimmick to link unplanned sex with alcohol consumption. I still won’t raise too much of a hackle about it, bars in some parts of the country are the most reliable places to buy condoms after hours – and that is a public health benefit, so if they want to add pregnancy test kits to the vendor meh, I’d think they should also add a mail-in HIV kit to both men’s and women’s rest rooms, and a mail-in paternity test to the men’s room. And for what it’s worth might be good to add the pregnancy test kit to the men’s room as well for extra anonymity. Making all this available to teens would be where I would start – they have a huge access problem needing to ask an adult for this stuff. Adding all this to high school bathrooms would be a good start. Now that would really set the conservatives off.

      • (BFing)Sarah says:

        Yes! Putting a pregnancy test vending machine in a high school bathroom is a public service. Tests in bars is just weird. Cheap tests in high school bathrooms makes complete sense to me and I could see that being a real help to young women.

    • Athenia says:

      I dunno. With me, it’s always the “I’m late, but perhaps I’ll get it tomorrow” type of lady. So I could totally see myself buying one in a bar on the spur of the moment.

  14. Bagelsan says:

    Pregnancy tests in bar vending machines = dumb.

    Morning-after pills in bar vending machines = AWESOME.

    Aaaand solves a similar “problem” much more effectively.

    • (BFing)Sarah says:

      Oh I’m so excited for this idea!! Or maybe a morning after pill vending machine at Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts!

      • Bagelsan says:

        “Ooooh, are you having caffeine? Better make sure you’re not pregnant first!”

        *maintains eye contact, chugs a morning-after pill with her mocha* “Okay, now I’m not.”

      • DouglasG says:

        Just don’t let anyone start putting it into the coffee, or we’ll head right towards a version of Stephen Fry’s Making History

  15. Angie unduplicated says:

    @(BFing)Sarah: This sounds like another class disconnect to me. Both Dollar Tree and the discount Save-A-Lot grocery chain sell dollar pregnancy tests for a reason–poor women need tests, too. On minimum wage, every cent saved makes a difference in an already stressed standard of living.
    I can’t vouch for the Dollar Tree tests, but the Save-A-Lot tests give a good fast positive, per my former tenant, now a mother.

    • cherrybomb says:

      Dollar Tree test gave me a false positive… I don’t recommend them.

    • (BFing)Sarah says:

      How is it a class disconnect to say that I wouldn’t want to take a test in a public place? As if people would be more or less likely to want to take a test in a public place based on their SES? I find that kind of offensive, actually. I said it was a good thing to have cheap tests, but I’m not sure I can see why people wouldn’t just get a cheap test at the dollar store and then go home OR to another, less public place (say, a mall), to take a test that has such emotional implications. I have no problem with cheap tests–I got the cheapest one I could find with my son and the positive came up in less than a second.

  16. ASH says:

    I too can vouch for the one dollar Sav Lot test which I bought after feeling sick for a few days and getting dizzy in the parking lot. I bought it to remove fears and needless to say it lit up like an Xmas tree and I was not even late. They do work!

  17. bleh says:

    So sick of pre-pregnant crap.

  18. zuzu says:

    Because what bar bathrooms really need is more urine splashed on the seats.

    • Alexandra says:


      Not to mention toilet paper strewn about the floor like confetti. I don’t understand such fear of public restrooms that you have to swathe the toilet seat in paper, and I really don’t understand why you can’t just flush the damn paper when you’re done. It looks like it’s been snowing in some places.

      • FashionablyEvil says:

        We call them “nesters” at my office, as in, “Damn, there was a nester in the third stall earlier today.”

        (Pro tip: the first stall in a bathroom is the cleanest.)

  19. SunlessNick says:

    the dispenser, which only accepts plastic.

    Something about this – the test dispenser not taking cash – troubles me, but I can’t put into words exactly why, except of course that the service is thus only available to women who have credit cards. And I wonder how it shows up on the credit card statement (which will presumably be sent to her home, where the people who she might not want knowing about her test will be).

    • Zebster says:

      Every time I’ve used plastic in a vending machine, the statement has just listed the amount and the name of either the host business (if any) or the vending company. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen anything listing what was bought on any credit/debit transaction I’ve ever made.

      • Past my expiration date says:

        If it’s on the credit card statement, somebody who sees the credit card statement can ask about it. Like this:

        Person who she doesn’t want knowing about her test: “So what did you buy for $3 from [name of restaurant/name of vending company], huh?”

        For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any other bathroom vending machines where credit cards were even an option, although that doesn’t mean there aren’t any; it just means I haven’t been paying attention.

    • EG says:

      Well, the article specifies that this is a fancy-pants upscale bar and this move is targeting affluent professional women, so I guess women without credit cards don’t count anyway.

      • Fat Steve says:

        Hmmmm…I know you are all trying not to be classist, but if you actually know a lot of people who can’t get a credit card, you would know that there are many ways of getting prepaid plastic. I have a lot of family members who are in that situation, and you can buy a functioning ‘credit card’ for the amount of cash you want to spend, many with no fees, at the local pharmacy or supermarket.

        Plus, even if you had an American Express Platinum it would help, a pre-paid card would deal with the anonymity factor.

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  21. Fat Steve says:

    I don’t care for the alcohol related aspect to this, but pregnancy tests in restaurant/bar/coffeeshop/shopping mall/whatever bathrooms sounds like a great idea to me.

    The proximity to the toilet is an obvious upside, but also there is the fact that many women don’t want to have to do a pregancy test at home where their parents/partner/anyone else could find out.

  22. Datdamwuf says:

    I’m late to the comments but I have to post the link to a 2010 study that indicates light drinking during pregnancy provided a slight benefit to the the children: Boys and girls born to light drinkers were less likely to have high total difficulties and Boys and girls born to light drinkers had higher mean cognitive test scores.

  23. Pingback: Coming soon to a bar near you: pregnancy test dispensers | Jill Stanek

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  25. NinjaofSin says:

    It’s be nice if the writer would explain WHERE this was happening.

    Or proposed to happen.

  26. Melanie says:

    As a former heavy drinker who enoys unprotected sex with her significant (sperm-producing) other, I think this is a great idea. I have twice brought my own pregnancy test to a bar – partly to share the stressful experience with my significant other in a relaxing environ ment, and partly to just make sure I could indulge worry-free. As it turned out, one of those times I came out of the bathroom and ordered a “celebratory” Jack neat. The other time I ordered a farewell-to-drinking Bass ale (which I ultimately didn’t have the heart to finish, now knowing what was at stake).

    For a person like me, the credit card option is ideal (I do not require discretion and I never have cash). However, I strongly agree an anonymous cash option should be available for women at risk.

  27. Katya says:

    Honestly, I like the idea of selling pregnancy tests right next to the condom dispensers–like, “use the latter or you might need the former.” It’s a little wordless non-verbal PSA for safe sex, really.

    • f. says:

      Ha, this is the way it is in a lot of German drugstores – condoms, lube, cockrings, vibrators… and pregnancy tests.

  28. Pingback: Feminist: Cheap pregnancy tests, condoms “for everyone, everywhere” | FavStocks

  29. f. says:

    Yeah… the argument about this is some “every woman is/should/could be pregnant” nonsense, but I like the idea of vending machines that dispense pregnancy tests just for purposes of discreetness and privacy. A bunch of the vending machines in my city’s subway system now offer them (though at, iirc, 8€ a pop they’re not necessarily affordable).

  30. Lolagirl says:

    Yikes, serious trigger warning for anyone who unwittingly follows that Jill Stanek trackback. I knew she was forced birth, anti-choice zealot, but I didn’t know just how bad she was until I followed the above link.

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