Birth Control’s Environmental Impact

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes to us from Anna C. Christensen, a regular contributor to the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona blog. I asked Anna to comment on an article from On the Issues regarding the environmental impact of birth control, since Anna has been writing an excellent series of posts for PPAA about sexually transmitted infections. When it comes to science topics, Anna knows her stuff. I hope you’ll find this post as fascinating as I do.

The birth control pill has given millions of people the ability to decide whether and when to have children, and its arrival on the scene in 1960 coincided with increasing concern about population growth – so not only was it seen as a force of liberation for women, it was seen as a tool to stem the tide of the world’s expanding population. Many proponents of zero population growth thought they could end poverty and hunger through the stabilization of the population – as well as conserve the Earth’s finite resources. Lately, however, the birth control pill and other hormonal contraceptives have received negative attention for their apparent ability to introduce endocrine disruptors into the environment.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) get their name from their ability to interfere with an organism’s endocrine system, which regulates hormones, or a body’s “chemical messengers.” This can wreak hormonal havoc on wildlife, affecting their development, fertility, and immunity. Therefore, EDCs have the potential to decrease or eliminate entire populations of creatures that happened to live in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Hormones work by binding to a complementary receptor. Depending on the hormone and the cell type, a reaction is triggered – perhaps a cell is prompted to synthesize an enzyme, or cell division is stimulated. Sex hormones, such as androgen and estrogen, are responsible for inducing the development of secondary sex characteristics, among other things. There are many mechanisms by which EDCs can disrupt an organism’s endocrine system: They can “trick” a body into recognizing it as a hormone; they can interfere with the function, production, or use of an organism’s natural hormones; or they can interfere with an organism’s hormone receptors.

EDCs started to receive serious attention in the literature in the 1990s. Many chemicals can act as EDCs, including natural estrogen from humans or other animals, as well as synthetic estrogen, including ethinylestradiol, and chemicals with “estrogenic activities,” such as nonylphenol and other alkylphenols, phthalates and other plasticizers, and polychlorinated biphenyls. Other chemicals with the capacity to disrupt endocrine systems of wildlife include organochlorine pesticides and certain pharmaceutical compounds.

EDCs: The case against them
Before we examine contraceptives and their ecological impact, let’s look at the charges that have been brought against EDCs. You might have already heard about the pesticide atrazine and its feminizing effects on male frogs. Natural and synthetic estrogen seem to have similar effects on male fish after entering rivers as part of sewage effluent. Both natural and synthetic estrogen can bind to estrogen receptors of aquatic animals and interfere with their own bodies’ biological processes. The synthetic 17α-ethinylestradiol (a component of oral contraceptives), as well as nonylphenol (a chemical with wide applications that is used in spermicides such as nonoxynol-9), can induce vitellogenesis – the production of a female yolk protein – in male fish, which is the most reported effect of estrogenic chemicals in the waterways. The UK Environment Agency conducted two large-scale studies in which thousands of fish from across the country were examined, and a correlation was found between even low levels of estrogen in the water and male vitellogenesis, which itself was linked to reduced fertility in these populations.

EDCs need not mimic estrogen; for example, metabolites of pesticides such as vinclozin and DDT have been found to have anti-androgenic effects on organisms. By binding to an organism’s androgen receptors, these chemicals can block the actions of testosterone. Tributyl tin, a component of a paint used on the hulls of ships, is a frequently cited EDC; it can masculinize female mollusks and has almost driven some populations to extinction – and it has been banned in many parts of the world.

The chemicals in your birth control
As you can see, the synthetic hormones in our birth control aren’t the only sources for EDCs – chemicals from a wide variety of other compounds can have endocrine-disrupting effects on wildlife. But let’s look specifically at the synthetic estrogen that arises from our contraceptive toolkit. In experiments, estrogen has been shown to be “the most biologically potent” of the EDCs. While the majority of 17β-estradiol and 17α-ethinylestradiol break down very quickly, the trace amounts that don’t degrade tend to persist in the environment. One group of researchers referred to 17α-ethinylestradiol, a synthetic estrogen used in combined contraceptives such as the Pill, the patch, and the ring, as “particularly recalcitrant” – it can accumulate in the soil, waste water, water sentiments, and groundwater.

Let’s look at nonylphenol as well – while its use as a spermicide is dwarfed by its wider use in detergents, emulsifiers, wetting agents, herbicides, and cosmetics, we can still consider the impact it might have as a part of our birth control arsenal. Nonoxynol is used in spermicide and as a lubricant in condoms; it breaks down into nonylphenol, which has also been found to be estrogenic and can end up in waterways.

What about estrogen sources that are first disposed of in landfills? The ring (e.g., NuvaRing) is composed of a polymer called polyethylene vinyl acetate and its active ingredients are etonogestrel and ethinylestradiol. After three weeks of use, an estimated 85 percent of ethinylestradiol remains present in the ring – almost 2.4 mg (down from the original 2.7 mg).

What does this mean for the ecosystem? A Dutch team (in a study specific to the landfill systems, contraceptive usage, and rainfall patterns of the Netherlands) determined that the ethinylestradiol used in NuvaRing has a negligible effect on the environment when disposed of in landfills. It leaches from the ring very slowly, and the sandy soil underneath a landfill can absorb ethinylestradiol, further reducing chances of groundwater contamination. Ethinylestradiol can stay in sandy soil for many years before eventually reaching groundwater; by this time the remainder could have been degraded by microbial or other processes.

Other sources for EDCs
We must look at the deleterious effects of contraceptive-derived EDCs in the greater context. Millions of metric tons of chemical substances are imported to or produced in the United States on a daily basis – in light of this, our use of contraceptives seems to be a drop in the bucket. Other chemicals with estrogenic activity include alkylphenols and bisphenol A (BPA), which have estrogenic potencies far lower than those of natural and synthetic estrogen, yet their prevalence in the environment is at a much higher concentration.

Furthermore, natural estrogen gets into the environment at even greater rates than synthetic estrogen from contraceptives. Women excrete estrogen every day – more or less depending on their cycle. Pregnant women can excrete up to 30 mg of estrogen a day, and this accumulates in the environment as well.

Female humans aren’t the only organisms loosing their estrogen-laden urine into the environment. Agricultural sources of EDCs – fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, sewage, and other minerals – have the greatest potential for ecological damage. The increasing industrialization and centralization of agriculture is responsible for large amounts of livestock waste entering the water in rural areas. Steroids, such as growth “enhancers” in cattle, are used regularly in agriculture. Pregnant mammals, such as those used for livestock, excrete estrogen, which themselves can affect aquatic and terrestrial species. Agricultural effluent is often disposed of by being spread over fields – untreated! There is so much of it that it cannot be adequately processed by the soils and can either find their way into groundwater or into waterways as runoff.

The majority of EDCs are pesticides – it is estimated that 5 billion tons of pesticides are used every year, and many pesticides have been found to have estrogenic activity. If they don’t bind to the soil they can find themselves in the waterways. According to the USGS, pesticides such as atrazine are found in 57 percent of streams in the United States.

Strategies for treating or reducing EDCs
EDCs are not completely removed during the sewage-treatment process – but they could be. A search through the literature reveals piles of studies by scientists investigating microbes capable of breaking down EDCs into their inert constituents – if these microbes were used in waste water treatment, we would be releasing cleaner waste water into the environment. Residues of EDCs in the waterways depend on a municipality’s waste water treatment systems; unless you know about your local water treatment system’s efficacy, you can’t know how much harm you are doing with the pharmaceutical and personal care products you are washing down the drain.

While microbes in sewage systems are much more effective than soil microbes in degrading free estrogens, wild microbes in the soil can also break down some of these chemicals before they reach the groundwater, adding another line of defense against contamination. Despite the “recalcitrance” of 17α-ethinylestradiol, some microbes exhibit the ability to degrade it quickly; for example, in one study Rhodococcus zopfii (strain Y50158) was able to degrade 17α-ethinylestradiol completely within 24 hours. An enzyme from horseradish also did quite well with natural and synthetic estrogens, degrading most or all of them within an hour, under the right conditions. We already have strategies to effect the breakdown of EDCs – we just have to put these tools to use.

The difficulties involved in testing the effects of chemicals are complicated by the additive or synergistic effects that chemicals might have in combination – normally, when chemicals are tested they are done so in isolation from one another. Additionally, some of these chemicals might be active at concentrations far lower than those at which they are tested. However, as things now stand in the United States, toxicological testing as a whole is woefully inadequate. The burden of proof is on U.S. regulatory agencies to show that a given synthetic chemical is harmful – this means that we may not adequately understand the toxicological effects all industrial, agricultural, and household chemicals might have on the environment and our health. (The EU, by the way, recently introduced robust new regulatory policies that, among other things, shift this burden of proof to chemical manufacturers.)

EDCs can theoretically be kept out of our waterways – we just have to invest in appropriate infrastructure. All kinds of chemicals end up in the water, a testament to inadequate waste water treatment, poor management of runoff, harmful agricultural practices, etc. While estrogen from contraceptives can have negative environmental effects, the vast majority of EDCs originate from pesticides and other agricultural applications. If you ask me, there’s little justification for foisting eco-guilt on those who use spermicides or hormonal birth control – especially since population reduction seems pretty eco-friendly in and of itself. On the other hand, industrial agriculture has a lot more negative ecological consequences than just releasing EDCs into the environment.

Making personal decisions that support sustainable and environmentally responsible agriculture would do more to reduce your ecological footprint than forgoing your birth control pills in favor of a possibly less-effective contraceptive method. (However, depending on your feelings about copper mining, a copper IUD might be worth investigating if your concerns about EDCs originating from contraceptives remain. They are incredibly effective and last for 12 years.) As far as reducing consumption of EDCs goes, giving up hormonal birth control could be a much lower priority than many other lifestyle changes you could make.

Works consulted:
Alkayat, Y. (2010). What is the Pill doing to our bodies and planet?. Ecologist, 40(9), 10-11.
Amaral Mendes, J.J. (2002). The endocrine disrupters: a major medical challenge. Food and Chemical Toxicology 40 (2002) 781–788.
Benotti, M.J., Brownawell, B.J. (2009) Microbial degradation of pharmaceuticals in estuarine and coastal seawater. Environmental Pollution 157, 994–1002.
Biello, D. (2010). Sex-Changing Weed Killer. Scientific American, 302(5), 24-27.
Birkett, J.W., Lester, J.N. (2003). Endocrine disrupters in wastewater and sludge treatment processes. CRC Press.
Cajthaml, T., Křesinová, Z., Svobodová, K., Sigler, K., Řezanka, T. (2009). Microbial transformation of synthetic estrogen 17α-ethinylestradiol. Environmental Pollution 157, 3325–3335.
Chang, B.V., Yu, C.H., Yuan, S.Y. (2004). Degradation of nonylphenol by anaerobic microorganisms from river sediment. Chemosphere 55, 493–500.
Geurts, M.G.J., de Boer, W., de Graaf, J.S., van Ginkel, C.G. (2007). Environmental exposure assessment of ethinyl estradiol (EE) from a combined hormonal vaginal contraceptive ring after disposal; leaching from landfills. Science of the Total Environment 377, 366–370.
Mallin, M. A. (2006). WADING IN WASTE. Scientific American, 294(6), 52-59.
Perry, M.J. (2008). Effects of environmental and occupational pesticide exposure on human sperm: a systematic review. Hum. Reprod. Update, 14 (3): 233-242.
Sarmah, A., & Northcott, G. (2008). LABORATORY DEGRADATION STUDIES OF FOUR ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS IN TWO ENVIRONMENTAL MEDIA. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 27(4), 819-27.
Scherr, F.F., Sarmah, A.K., Di, H.J., Cameron, K.C. (2009). Degradation and metabolite formation of 17β-estradiol-3-sulphate in New Zealand pasture soils. Environment International 35, 291–297.
Schwarzman, M.R., Wilson, M.P. (2009). New Science for Chemicals Policy. Science, 326(20), 1065-1066.

Comments

  1. Anna, thanks for giving us the run down on this complicated topic. I think that you made some good points about being aware of the impact that agriculture and meat have on the environment. I think adopting a vegan lifestyle and trying to eat organically will have much more of an impact on the planet than abandoning birth control. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t be concerned – but you made it very clear that birth control is a drop in the bucket compared to pesticides and fertilizers.

  2. Nicole says:

    What a great post! I’m so glad to have read something that both clearly explains what the potential environmental issues with hormonal bc are AND places them in their proper broader context. I’ve read environmental advocacy journalism by well-meaning individuals who didn’t seem to really understand the scientific basis of their own arguments against hormonal bc…I’ve read arguments fo condoms over hormonal bc *for environmental reasons* that didn’t even mention that many condoms (maybe even most?) contain EDC themselves! Thanks for the level headed and informed analysis.

  3. Action – Reaction. You have sex, babies come. Birth control is like fighting nature, having your cake and eating it too. How about the pull-out method, or abstinence.

    • Mungo, the pull-out method doesn’t work, and neither does abstinence.

      • Really? Abstinence is the only 100% way to not get pregnant!

        It drives me nuts when people say it “doesn’t work”. It’s an issue of personal discipline and self-control. We don’t say “staying out of debt” doesn’t work because people like to shop. How are our sexual habits any different?

        • Sure, abstinence from heterosexual intercourse works when it’s adhered to 100 percent of the time. When people say it “doesn’t work” they are referring to the fact that most people, for whatever reason, aren’t able to use this method “consistently and correctly.”

          Of course, you only have to abstain from sexual activities that might introduce sperm into a vagina in order to prevent pregnancy, so there are a lot of sexual activities you can still engage in and be safe from pregnancy. If you want to frame it as an issue of “personal discipline” and “self-control,” go ahead, but know that there are plenty of people who simply don’t want to have heterosexual intercourse (whether they are gay or lesbian, asexual, simply enjoying a period of extended celibacy, etc.) who reap the same benefits without being so smug about it.

          In any case, what does this have to do with anything? People who are heterosexually active are able to use contraceptive devices to drastically reduce risk of pregnancy. This is a fantastic thing, and doesn’t prevent anyone else from practicing abstinence (or the hilarious pull-out “method”) if they so choose. Pointing out that contraception allows people to have heterosexual intercourse with a hugely reduced risk of pregnancy (what Mungo calls “fighting nature”) isn’t a very good argument against it. Appeals to nature can sound good as a rhetorical technique but usually can’t withstand greater scrutiny, and this is one such case.

          • The real issue here is that children are a much greater joy than sex, if you disagree you are a selfish person who finds greater joy in obtaining carnal pleasures that giving selflessly for the good of another. Sex is a good, it is far from the greatest good, and should be approached as such.

          • Andrew Z: Do you seriously think that your subjective value judgment will be mistaken as an objective fact by any rational person reading this? You’re free to prioritize sex in whatever way works for you, but people have different preferences, not to mention different ideas about selfishness and selflessness.

            Please read some history and acquaint yourself with the horrors of unwanted pregnancies in the days before anyone had access to contraception or safe abortion, childbirth could kill you, and wives had no legal right to refuse sex with their husbands. Heck, you could even read about current subcultures or societies in which all of this still holds true.

  4. I find strange that this article shows clearly that estrogen from the pill is STILL a contributing factor, although its made to appear negligible based on how the data was analyzed. The fact is, even if all farms went organic and the pill remained used by millions, the pill would still be affecting the environment. I am anti-the pill because of the environmental issues. The pill is also the bread and butter of much of big pharmaceutical, who frankly do not have the public’s best interests at heart. I’m also ant-the pill because it makes people less responsible for their own actions under the guise of trying to be responsible. And besides, there’s also been studies that how attractive we appear as women, as well as who we find attractive is altered by using the pill.

    Personally, I find it insulting that the culture thinks we are too stupid as women to be trained to monitor and know our own bodies, such that we can tell when we are ovulating and track our cycles. Yes, everyone is different, but the signs are the same. If we kept track, we could know, based on our religious or moral preferences, whether to use the appropriate barrier method, or to abstain. We also could know more quickly when there was something truly wrong with our bodies – this data has high potential for being good additions to our health history. It also gives us more control over exactly when we get pregnant, because we know pretty much when we are most fertile. I’m sorry, I’m not convinced that ovulation is a disease for medicating. I see it more as a cycle worth managing. I find taking control in this way more empowering, and a compliment to my intelligence.

    • The point of this article was to put the environmental impact of hormonal birth control in context. There are much more effective things we can be doing to keep endocrine-disrupting chemicals out of the environment — and furthermore, our ability to limit family size also has a positive environmental impact, especially when you consider the huge ecological footprint the typical First World family has.

      Blanket statements about “Big Pharma” don’t fly with me, personally. Yes, there are times when I think the industry does heinous things (usually the marketing divisions are more to blame than the R&D divisions, but I digress), but why throw the baby out with the bathwater? The fact of the matter is that some pharmaceuticals have greatly enhanced quality of life, and I wouldn’t hesitate to put hormonal birth control near the top of the list.

      If you think it’s insulting that “the culture thinks women are too stupid” to know their bodies, why isn’t it equally if not more insulting to imply that people using the pill are “less responsible for their own actions”? To me, this is thinly veiled slut-shaming, and it’s incredibly insulting to the millions of people who use hormonal birth control, for a variety of reasons that are none of your business.

      The “studies” you vaguely allude to raise some serious red flags for me; the least you can do is provide citations so I can have some idea of what you’re talking about.

      It’s great if you want to practice fertility awareness and all that. But if you really advocate for a return to a world where people capable of becoming pregnant are not empowered to control their fertility through a variety of means, then you’ll be returning to a world where people have families with 10 kids or more and they die in childbirth at 43. And remember, not all people want to be limited to only one family-planning method, and not everyone is empowered to decide whether and when to abstain from sex or to use condoms. (A separate and terrifying issue.)

      And surely you know that many people use hormonal birth control for health issues other than family planning. It can be an integral part of someone’s greater health and well being. If you don’t have issues that can be addressed by hormonal birth control, more power to you — but again, don’t assume that everyone experiences things the same way you do.

      You are free to choose your own family-planning strategies. Please don’t seek to limit the options of others.

      • Also, I don’t think anyone except for opponents of the Pill is framing the issue as a case of fertility being pathologized. Please. Most people on hormonal birth control don’t think of themselves as being diseased due to their ability to get pregnant, so stop setting up straw-man arguments in which some mysterious group of people view ovulation as a pathology. Who are you to dictate that the only reason to take a pill is because someone has a recognized medical disease? Pregnancy and childbirth are health issues (not disease issues), and our ability to control our fertility is not only a health issue but also an important cornerstone of our right to self-determination.

    • Amen sister

  5. Hi Anna,
    I am a text researcher working on behalf of educational publisher, Cengage Learning to obtain rights and permission to repblish your article. Cengage is interested in using your article in an upcoming reference book. Could you please let me know the best way to reach you and forward the permissions letter detailing the intended us and the material? Thank you!

    • You can find other ways to contact me — I’d need to hear from you directly to know that you’re legit. Thanks!

      • Andrew Z says:

        Well I don’t see a reply button after your post so I write in reply to this message of yours Anna.
        I would first like to point out how you try to argue for your subjective opinion by saying that I only have subjectivity to stand upon. -

        “Do you seriously think that your subjective value judgment will be mistaken as an objective fact by any rational person reading this?”

        This is the fallacy of subjectivism.
        Subjective states… your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth, things aren’t right or wrong, they are just different.
        This argumentation is foolishness and unreasoned, for if it were true that you “truth” is yours and my “truth” is mine and they are both just different and their “truth” is based on subjectivity; all bridges for intellectual discussion have broken down because there no longer anything to talk about because there isn’t a right or wrong.
        Further what you wrote breaks the principle of non-contradition – two things can both “be” and “not be” is the same place in the same time. ex. it would be absurd for for to say that I am both a cat and a human, right now as I sit in my chair. Either I am a cat or a person, the issue of my confusion can’t be dissipated by merely stating that my opinion on my dual-subject is merely that, my opinion. It is either right or wrong.

        also note however how you yourself later go on to appeal to objective fact to persuade me that my opinion is wrong –

        “Please read some history and acquaint yourself with the horrors of unwanted pregnancies in the days before anyone had access to contraception or safe abortion”

        In your appeal to history you appeal to the objective clash that many people have experienced between their own wills and their life situation. an example not connected to pregnancy… I wanted to buy the candy bar from the store but I was grounded. This, while much less important than an unwanted pregnancy demonstrates the same point. The pregnant woman has lots of things she would like to do but she is unable to do so because she is pregnant.

        But if all is subjective, then this can’t even be labeled as a situation. It becomes merely a something different, not right or wrong, just different.

        I will stop with arguments for a moment now and appeal to experience. I understand that life can be frustrating sometimes, especially when one’s desires are no longer possible. This is a sad state to be in and there are many people within this state; those who are born into poverty who won’t have a “fair shake” at life, those born blind, those soldiers who have their legs amputated after a road side bomb explosion, the elderly who lose all their freedom and become dependent totally on others, minorities in a white dominated society, women in a world run by men.

        Let me qualify this last part of my list. Society has an order to it, and men have always been those in the leadership and service position and women have always been in the nurturer and humble obedient follower. This has produced many terrible injustices, some of which you mentioned above, but the system itself was not at fault for the short comings of individuals within. It is my opinion that the current feminist movement has arisen as an extreme counter pendulum swing to the abused of men and not to the system.

        Men, should be as God the Father and as Jesus Christ, totally loving and self giving, disinterested for their own good because they are interested in the good of the ones they serve. Men should emulate the total self gift of Christ on the cross for the good of the world.
        This sadly happens, men are poorly taught by fathers, pursue happiness in destructive acts and selfish lifestyles.
        Now women, who are to imitate Mary in her perfect receptivity of truth in her spouse, can not act as she did because their spouses don’t act like God the Father.
        I am glad you are acting out for your dignity, but we must distinguish two ways, either living in further conformity with Mary, like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta did and St. Angela Merici or they can try to correct the errors of men by trying to take the possession belonging to men.

        Now I realize this is getting long but I feel you will respect my dignity by reading in charity and in full length, I will end with two points.

        Imagine how joyful you would be if you were able to find that loving husband who was so concerned that not only would he die for you in big and little ways everyday of your marriage but he would love you so much to correct you when you are in error, error of course causing us pain and anguish. He would do all he could to provide for you and your family and would subject his will, his passions, his desires to the good of you and the family; no forced sex, no abuse, no cursing, no rejection.

        Last point

        Contraception in what it is, denies that what I presented is possible. Abortion itself, was supposed to be a rare occurrence, is 50 million since Roe v. Wade rare? 41% of pregnancies end in abortion in New York City. The relations between men and women have become so warped that the most innocent of people are suffering, the unborn. Abortion and contraception is not the solution to the pain women have experienced over the centuries, a society that is family centered and protects both the woman and the child is the only answer.

        • When I said your opinion was subjective, I was referring to your claim that “children are a much greater joy than sex.” I understand your quibble with moral relativism but that’s not quite what I was invoking. I don’t think the moral relativism you speak of applies to simple preferences, like what things are greater joys. I prefer chocolate to caramel. If I made the absolute statement that “chocolate is a greater joy than caramel,” then yes, I would be proclaiming something as “absolute truth.” But I’m not making such an absolute statement, and there’s nothing immoral in saying “I prefer chocolate to caramel.” So I reject your claim that children are absolutely a greater joy than sex. I accept your opinion that YOU (as do many others) find children to be a greater joy than sex. But different people enjoy different things. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything moral or ethical about what we enjoy. Everyone prioritizes things differently and takes joy in different things in different ways. This is not “moral relativism,” it is just human diversity.

          Now, it seems that you might reply that preferring chocolate to caramel is a trivial matter, and you’re talking about life and death. It is apparent to me that you’re pro-life/anti-contraception because of a belief in the sanctity of life, and even the sanctity of living tissues such as sperm and ova. Of course, reading what you’ve written in full, it seems to me that there’s also a huge concern with controlling women’s bodies thrown into the mix. I’m sure you’d disagree, because you seem to think it’s objectively true that women SHOULD want to be controlled by their husbands, and SHOULD find joy in this submission. It’s hard to tease out your apparent belief in the sanctity of life from your apparent belief in the idea that women should be joyfully subservient. For me, the value (or “sanctity”) of life is diminished when I am being made to submit to someone else’s will, even that of a “loving” husband. It seems you see things differently.

          Here is the crux of the matter, for me: You can say that your beliefs are absolute truths all you want. But even if objective truth exists, you have no way of knowing that your beliefs are the ones that are objectively true and mine are the ones that are false. (Or vice versa.) In the absence of this ability to know for sure that (1) there is an objective truth at all, and (2) my beliefs are the ones that are objectively true, all I have is my ability to reason (just as this is all you have). You and I are are obviously starting from completely different premises to arrive at completely different conclusions. For example, I put a much higher value on a person’s right to bodily autonomy than I put on a sperm or a blastocyst. By the time I arrive at my conclusions, they must seem quite foreign to you, just as your conclusions about the “warped” relations between men and women leading to some kind of horrible society are all but completely inaccessible to me.

          I hope you can trust that I’ve put a lot of thought into the ethics of these matters and have come up with a cohesive framework for abortion and birth control as moral issues. However, it is hugely apparent that you and I will never, ever see eye to eye on these matters. You make all kinds of assumptions about what a female wants out of life, how she should act, etc. When you say “Imagine how joyful you would be …” and launch into a description of a relationship that you wrongly assume would make me joyous beyond words, you prove just how much you miss the point. When you invoke religious figures, you show how much you miss the point. You don’t understand at all what gives my life meaning, largely because you don’t even know me — you just assume that as a female I must have a certain set of values that can be satisfied by a marriage defined by strict gender roles. The “joyous” situation you describe, though, does not represent my desires or my values. You might say that I have been brainwashed or that this kind of marriage is what I “really” want “deep down,” but these claims are not falsifiable, which makes them pretty uninteresting fodder for back-and-forth discussion.

          I accept that you find different things meaningful in life, but they are not the same for everyone.

          • Andrew Z says:

            I will only reply to one thing here, as we could discuss many which may not be productive.

            “I hope you can trust that I’ve put a lot of thought into the ethics of these matters and have come up with a cohesive framework for abortion and birth control as moral issues.”

            I do trust that you have put much thought and effort into your ethics, but personal freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want, it is the ability to do the good.

            Your ethics ends with the morally right choice of killing your own child in the womb (I assume this but you haven’t explicitly stated this). You may have an issue with the use of the term “child” but that which grows within you, that which is its own while yet dependent being, is your child, just as a 40 year old man is still the child/son of his mother.

            If your ethics takes the right to life of the most innocent persons away just because they are living in a way that makes your life difficult, it is wrong.

            Now you infact may be okay with contraception and not with abortion, as many protestants have become, but if you are fine with abortion at any stage, please explain to me how it is “right” to kill the unborn.

            And just so you know, I am pro-life because I am pro-woman, pro-man, and fundamentally pro-God, even though I have to submit my will to His many times everyday.

        • Anyway, the title of this post is “Birth Control’s Environmental Impact.” The intended audience was ecologically minded supporters of family planning, who may or may not have misgivings about the environmental impact of the hormones used in these contraceptive methods. I presented falsifiable facts and analysis. You’re welcome to debate those points. People who are flat-out opposed to birth control were not the intended audience, as nothing I say about the environmental impact of birth control is relevant to their beliefs.

          Now, I am not sure if you’re actually interested in a good-faith discussion about opposing worldviews, or if you’re just here to bully pro-choice feminists with your own opinions. If you actually want a good-faith discussion in which you can better understand someone else’s worldview, I’d recommend talking to some Christian feminists who can better address your theological points, and who might also have a better idea of where you’re coming from. Bringing up Jesus and Mary with me is just about as rhetorically powerful as if I tried to convince you of my points using Zeus, Ra, or the tooth fairy as examples.

          Generally I find discussions about unfalsifiable beliefs to be tedious and uninteresting, and would rather spend my time on other things, especially as it’s not my job to educate you on basic feminism. I also suspect that you’re not here for good-faith discussion, and since I find your entire description of “ideal” gender relations to be morally reprehensible and barely coherent, I really question what I could possibly gain from furthering this discussion. You’re certainly not going to convince me that you’re right, and your reasoning is so difficult to follow that I’m not sure you can even enlighten me about beliefs that are different from my own. Likewise, I’m not sure what you hope to gain from this discussion either, other than having a space to rant about your opinions. If you are here for good-faith discussion, I apologize, but also must reiterate that you can find people who would be much more willing to talk to you about basic feminism and can better address your theological concerns.

          • Andrew Z says:

            I appreciate your honesty, I also acknowledge that you may not have the philosophical and theological background to address my concerns, and I may not be the best at ellaborating them in a way you can understand them, and I concede that the topic of the article is explicitly conected to environmental impact, but this end has underlying premices which make, in my opinion, dicussing issues of environmental impact somewhat vain.

            I am glad you did not resort to attacking my person to get rid of the issues I was raising. I infact am very environmentally minded and am highly concerned with proper Christian stewardship of the gifts God has given us. I have this concern primarily because God has given them to us, thus a mis-use worsens our relationship with God, speaks poorly about us, and is unfitting to us as creatures created in the image and likeness of God. This is why I brought up my moral, theological, philosophical concerns, because our concern with the environment should not be concerned with preserving the environment, it is not its own end, we should be concerned with the environment because it reflects the basic human questions, who are we, what are we for, why are we here. If you get these questions wrong, which I believe feminists of your persuasion do, you will only find unsatisfactory answers.

            This takes me to your previous reply to my previous reply, to your previous post.

            “When I said your opinion was subjective, I was referring to your claim that “children are a much greater joy than sex.” I understand your quibble with moral relativism but that’s not quite what I was invoking. I don’t think the moral relativism you speak of applies to simple preferences, like what things are greater joys. I prefer chocolate to caramel.”

            the question of sex is not merely one of preference like chocoloate or caramel. It is a question of fulfilling our nature. On a natural level we see that sex is directed to union and procreation rather than pleasure. If it is directed to pleasure rather than what I mentioned then all contraception would be good always and procreation would always be a necessary evil to allow more beings to enjoy more pleasure. We have natures which are directed towards an end. This is the fundamental divide between you and I it seems, your end is physical, emotional, psychological pleasure, mine is something more than this.

          • “I do trust that you have put much thought and effort into your ethics, but personal freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want, it is the ability to do the good.”

            I think contraception represents an enormous good for society as a whole. One only has to compare and contrast cultures with and without access to reliable contraception, or look within single cultures before and after such access came about. Reliable contraception has done immeasurable good for women and families, as well as society as a whole. Poverty, overcrowding, disease, stress — these are all things that can and have been perpetuated by large family sizes. And I for one am glad that, in general, women in our society aren’t having 10 babies anymore unless they actually want to. Furthermore, I never said anything about ethics being about doing “whatever you want,” so I don’t know where you got that from.

            “On a natural level we see that sex is directed to union and procreation rather than pleasure.”

            On a “natural level”? In nature, animals engage in sex for pleasure. Humans are a rare species in their ability to strategize their sexual behavior in the service of long-term goals. I don’t buy the argument that humans are the only creatures having sex for pleasure and not procreation — I see it as quite the opposite. But in any case, arguments from nature don’t hold for me. First of all, humans are part of nature so our behavior is by definition “natural.” Second of all, just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is better or superior (arsenic is found in nature, plastic is not, to give one trite example of the naturalistic fallacy).

            “If it is directed to pleasure rather than what I mentioned then all contraception would be good always and procreation would always be a necessary evil to allow more beings to enjoy more pleasure.”

            Whoa there, I don’t see how you jumped to this conclusion. Why are you setting up a dichotomy in which sex is EITHER “for” pleasure OR procreation but not for both? Sex can be different things for different people, and different things at different times. It’s not always pleasurable, it’s not always procreational, it can be neither, it can be both. Individuals experience sex differently, they can decide if it is to be experienced at all, and hopefully their partners are on the same page!

            This article took as a given that contraception is here and it exists. Based on that fact, I made an argument about its environmental impact based on findings from scientific studies. You are taking a huge step back from the article’s central thesis by claiming that contraception shouldn’t exist in the first place. You are trying to make a moral argument, but my ethical system holds that access to contraception serves a greater good, because it allows us to take control of our own fertility, allows us increased bodily autonomy, and reduces the suffering that often comes with large family sizes. You speak of all kinds of ideals you have for “optimal” family relations, but when have these ideals ever actually existed? They haven’t. And not only are they unrealistic, they’re not even desirable to most of the population. With that in mind, it seems best to give people the tools they need to decide their own fates.

            “This is the fundamental divide between you and I it seems, your end is physical, emotional, psychological pleasure, mine is something more than this.”

            Please don’t make assumptions about what sex might mean to me, just because I accept the fact that for many people, it’s not just about procreation.

            And I’m talking about contraception, not abortion. If I were against abortion I’d be an even bigger backer of contraception, as that has been the most effective method in reducing abortion rates. And since condoms and birth control pills don’t even end human life (unless you’ve been reading some junk science), it’s not even a life-or-death issue as abortion might be for a pro-life individual. But since you asked about my opinion on abortion, I’ll share it, even though I’m sure you can find plenty of arguments for the pro-choice position elsewhere. My pro-choice beliefs are informed by my beliefs in the importance of bodily autonomy. I believe that a fully formed person has the right to control how his or her body is being used. To say that a blastocyst or an embryo has rights that exceed those of a fully formed person is, to me, absurd. A blastocyst or embryo does not have the right to use someone else’s body without that person’s consent. I would be pro-life if I believed that the issue wasn’t more complicated than whether or not something is living tissue with unique DNA, but because someone else’s very body is involved, it becomes more than that. I understand the pro-life position, but to me the issue of bodily autonomy is paramount.

  6. After reading your article on contraceptives and the environment, I would expect you to admit that abstinence is far more environmentally friendly and a greater way to plan parenthood than the use of contraceptives. Your argument is to concede that sure we are damaging the environment by using contraception, but so are a lot of other things. The point is that we are still damaging the environment by our choices. And after 40 years of contraception, we are only on the tip of discovering the good vs detrimental effects.

    • Abstinence is wonderful for people who choose it. I want everybody to be empowered with that option. Unfortunately, not everyone who wants to practice abstinence is able to do so, especially in patriarchal cultures. Additionally, not everyone wants to practice abstinence. People who choose to be heterosexually active absolutely need access to reliable contraception, and hormonal methods are among the best.

      Expecting everyone on this planet to live up to your ideal of abstinence is incredibly unrealistic. It has never been an effective method of family planning on a societal level, anywhere or any time in history. It is a choice that an individual should be able to make, but people making that choice — to limit family size via prolonged periods of celibacy — have always been in the minority. There is no way to enforce abstinence on a society, and in my opinion trying to do so would be grossly unethical and oppressive.

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