06/19/2013 12:46 EDT | Updated 08/19/2013 05:12 EDT

Northern Ontario university bar 1st in Canada to offer pregnancy tests

A campus pub at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., will be the first bar in Canada to install a pregnancy test dispenser in its bathroom.

Healthy Brains for Children, an organization dedicated to preventing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, hopes other bars across the country will follow the Outpost's lead and do the same.

The chair of the Canadian chapter of Healthy Brains for Children, based in Thunder Bay, said the campaign is an effort to lower the number of women who drink without knowing they are pregnant.

“I talk to devastated people all of the time,” said Marilyn Leiter. “Their children were born with a disability that could have been prevented ...Test[ing] … before you drink could avoid all of this."

The Outpost bar is owned and run by the Lakehead University Student Union.

On Wednesday, its vice-president of student issues, Charmaine Romaniuk, told CBC News the student union felt the pregnancy test dispenser is an important way to help prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

"Generally ... we feel like we're leaders in the initiatives that can benefit ... the population at large," Romaniuk said. "This is something that can affect the whole community."

'An awareness campaign'

Healthy Brains for Children in the U.S. installed its first pregnancy test dispenser in a Minnesota bar last summer.

Jay Reasner, co-owner of Pub 500 in Mankato, Minn., was initially surprised by the idea.

"At first ... we cringed a little bit and thought that might be the strangest thing I've ever heard,” he said.

But Reasner said statistics about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and how many women drink without realizing they're pregnant won him over.

“In our view, it is an awareness campaign.”

Leiterman agrees that creating awareness is key to preventing FASD, as well as easy access to pregnancy tests.

She said the tests will cost $3 each at the dispensing machine.

The founder of Healthy Brains for Children, Jody Allen Crowe, is based in Minnesota. He said there are now three pregnancy test dispensing machines in bars in that state, and interest is growing.

Reasner said Crowe came to Pub 500 regularly while writing a book, and proposed the idea to the bar's managers.