MANKATO, Minn - The owner of a southern Minnesota pub says in an effort to prevent prenatal exposure to alcohol, he's installed a pregnancy test dispenser in the women's restroom.
"Strange, yes," said Pub 500 proprietor, Tom Fredrik. "But, it took about 30 seconds to say yes."
The idea is the vision of one of his regular customers, Jody Allen Crowe, who is also an expert in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Crowe runs the organization Healthy Brains for Children.
He says with the swipe of a debit card, women can buy a pregnancy test for three dollars from the vending machine.
"If it gives you an informed decision at that point in time to stop drinking, your baby is going to be better for it," he said.
Crowe believes placing the pregnancy tests in upscale bars targets the demographic most likely to drink while pregnant - financially stable women, in urban areas, over age 30.
The vending machines were announced on the same day the federal government revealed that one in 13 pregnant women in the United States reported drinking alcohol.
The Centers for Disease Control surveyed 14,000 pregnant women and of those who said they drank, nearly 1 in 5 said they went on at least one binge -- downing four or more drinks.
Pregnant women ages 35 to 44 were the biggest drinkers.
Several Pub 500 customers seemed enthusiastic about the option.
"If you can buy condoms and whatnot at a bar, it's logical to buy a pregnancy test. It's less embarrassing than going to the drug store. It's discreet, readily available, inexpensive," said Theresa Carlberg. "I hope other restaurants and establishments in our community do the same thing, it's important."
As a former school teacher and principal, Crowe is convinced the decision to take the test in the bar bathroom could save a life.
"I've seen violence, I've seen wonderful wonderful children who struggle mightily learning how to read, and do math," he said.
Crowe wrote a book, "The Fatal Link" which examines the connection between prenatal exposure to alcohol and school shooters. He spent time writing his book in Pub 500, where he was inspired to install the pregnancy test vending machines.
He says the profits from the purchased pregnancy tests benefit his non-profit. He's searching for more funding to install more vending machines across the state in more restaurants, hotels, and even gas stations. Each costs around $1,000.
"I am thinking that in a few years this will be commonplace and it will be part of the expectation," said Crowe.
A message on the vending machine tells women who drink to ideally take a pregnancy test every two weeks to prevent any prenatal alcohol exposure.
"If it prevents one child, well worth it," said Fredrik, who hopes just the sight of the machine makes his customers think twice. "If you can imagine your children were born with a birth defect that was preventable, yeah, it can tug at your heart strings real quick."