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I read an article on Mashable this morning that made my blood boil. The headline was, “CDC tells millions of women to stop drinking, just in case they get pregnant.”

What the CDC actually said in their updated advisory was (among other things), women should “Stop drinking alcohol if they are trying to get pregnant or could get pregnant.”

The uproar is over the use of the word “could.” It implies that the health of a yet to be conceived and hypothetically desired child is more important than a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.

I posted the article on Facebook. A friend took issue with the inflammatory headline and slant of the article. Her comments made me think.

The CDC did not (one hopes) intentionally seek to render women merely vessels for future, potential offspring. And yet they did. Can you imagine telling a man not to drink because he might one day become a dad and his alcohol consumption might harm his future kid? That would be outrageous. The CDC’s admonition was outrageous. Maybe it was a slip. I assume they meant nothing malicious and certainly the document was not written to have the effect it did.

But here are the questions: Do words matter that much? Should we value intent over content? If we do not police the tiny, unintended messages can we ever shape a culture of equality?

I’m curious to know what you think.