The Vatican’s Misleading Birth Control Story

Jennifer Rogers

While there is evidence that estrogenic contaminants are impacting the environment, there is no evidence that oral contraceptives are the main culprit. And what about the benefits of contraception to the environment?

The Vatican
recently stated that oral contraceptives are negatively impacting the
environment and male fertility. 
Not surprisingly, the Vatican fails to look honestly at the scientific
evidence or at the bigger picture. 

It is true that human exposure to chemicals
in our every day environment deserves more attention.  A growing body of scientific
evidence
indicates that
chemicals in our environment are negatively affecting male and female
fertility as well as the health of the developing fetus. More and more
reproductive health, rights and justice organizations, advocates, and health care providers are calling for research that will enhance
our knowledge of this issue and on reforms that will minimize our exposure
to harmful chemicals. Reproductive Health Technologies Project
is committed to the effort

But this is an extremely complex issue. 
While there is evidence that estrogenic contaminants in the environment
are having a negative impact, there is no evidence that oral contraceptives
are the main culprit.  There are many other estrogenic drugs in
the environment – including hormone replacement and estrogen mimics
that are used for chemotherapy. In addition, industrial chemicals that
can mimic hormones such as those found in detergents are also estrogenic. 

We are aware of only one study that
focuses exclusively on the impact of the specific synthetic estrogen
(17α-esthinylestradiol, commonly called EE2) contained in some oral contraceptives
(many oral contraceptives do not contain EE2).  But in this study,
EE2 was tested in its "pure" form, not as it is released in a woman’s
urine.  The Vatican’s effort to disparage contraceptives misses
the larger picture — we need better water treatment systems to get
rid of ALL the chemicals.   

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Naturally the Vatican’s analysis also
fails to acknowledge the benefits of contraception to reproductive health
and the environment. Most mainstream scientists agree that the
human impact on the environment is the most detrimental.  Contraception
has enabled women and families to decide when and how many children
to have and this in turn has been show to improve the health of children,
women, communities and the planet. The Vatican’s overstatement of
this science is just the most recent twist in their decades-long rejection
of safe, effective modern methods of contraception.

But there is a lot we can and should
do, including: 

  • Passing comprehensive chemical
    policy reform in the United States through such legislation as the Kids
    Safe Chemical Act
  • Urging for more research
    into the impact of all pharmaceuticals in the environment
  • Ensuring that waste water
    treatment plants use the most effective methods to remove contaminants;
    and
  • Supporting "green chemistry"
    so that all pharmaceuticals including contraception are safe and effective
    while not harming the environment.

We urge the Vatican to join us in these
efforts — efforts that will move us in the direction of protecting
the environment and our fertility.

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