Male Chastity Belt, US Patent No.995600 by Jonas E. Heyser, 1911. Ideal for preventing platform self-abuse and hypocritical behavior in the more risque quarters of Miami during the upcoming Republican Convention
Occasionally scientific fact, polemical positions and public policy collide where none of the principal parties look good. Recall the lack of self-awareness of Jonathan Swift’s Lilliputians and the strife between the ‘Big Enders’ and ‘Little Enders’ in Gulliver’s Travels. Consider, in context, the grave problem caused by endocrine disruptors from birth-control pharmaceuticals that pass through the female body, down the toilet and eventually into the aquatic environment, causing male fish—as documented in the scientific literature – to start growing eggs in their testes. Canadian experiments show that levels as low as five parts per trillion can cause species collapse. This creates a clear policy decision that should involve a rational social debate between those groups with a stake in pollution, pregnancy, politics and profit. Fat chance.
The Politicians: Apparently, irony has become illegal in the U.S., pre-empted by Todd Akin, Paul Ryan and other R’s. The Republican platform’s abortion plank, which includes the potential elimination of hormonal birth control, is based on spurious medical ‘science’ and a doctrine dating from the 13th century legal text Fleta, as referenced by Vanessa Heggie in the Guardian. The position of Ryan, Akins et. al. brings to mind, with only slight modification, the lines from a rock and roll classic: “Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology, don’t know much about science books….Don’t know much about economies…” etc. “What a Wonderful World This Would Be.” Given Congress’ approval ratings, sinking self–interestedly downwards in an ocean of post Citizen’s United bribery, we can’t expect solutions from them.
The Right to Life crowd. Given the destruction of God-given fisheries and pregnancies (even in the case of rape) one might think that they would argue against hormonal birth control from the perspective of logic, fact and environmental damage. This path is not open to them, as it would involve using science and reasoning, leading to understanding reproductive biology, which might get them uncomfortably close to evolution. God knows what might happen if they started looking at sociology, anthropology and the patriarchal/tribal society’s desires to control women’s reproductive rights. They seem to be sure that things must have been so much better when, as recently as Victorian England, women didn’t even control their own property, let alone their own bodies.
The Environmentalists. The inability to protect the environment from endocrine disruptors mirrors the ineffectiveness of much of the environmental community, reflecting their widespread invocation of the precautionary principle in trying to ban anything they don’t like, rather than its intended purpose: to guide regulatory actions where credible scientific evidence of potential risk exists. To grasp the environmental and economic impacts, check the recent Nature article by researchers Richard Owen and Susan Jobling. While the effects on fish (see above) in British rivers was first noted 30 years ago, only a decade or so after the widespread introduction of the birth control pill, virtually nothing has been done. As the article points out: “The need to protect our environment from the harmful effects of EE2 is clear, but understanding our willingness as a society to pay for that protection is not. Nor is it obvious where responsibilities lie including whether pharmaceutical companies have a moral duty of care for all their products, which could be better designed so that they are safe for the environment.”
Profits and Pharma: Birth control is big-pharma fantasy made real, estimated to reach $17.2 billion annual revenues worldwide by 2015, used by 98% of the U.S. female population at some time in their lives, much of which involves taking a pill nearly every day. However, things change when one looks more closely. Checking on the Center for Disease Control website, amongst non-hormonal methods, the copper T intra-uterine device (IUD), which lasts up to 10 years and is 99% effective, eliminates the problem of birth-control hormones released to the natural environment. Dr. Jeffrey F. Peipert of the Contraceptive Choice Project (check out the videos) at Washington University of St. Louis shows that IUD users have far fewer unwanted pregnancies, no hormonal balance/estrogen problems and are far more likely to continue the method. The problem? Initial costs are much higher, though over-all cost over time is significantly less. IUDs are often not covered by insurance and, of course, big pharma doesn’t get to sell a pill a day to millions of women.
We only need the Right to Life crowd to say “while we don’t approve of hormonal methods on ethical grounds, we respect your right to control your own body, if you don’t screw up the environment.” (Plus, as the Contraceptive Choice Project shows, when women have control of their own bodies, it reduces abortion rates and teen pregnancy dramatically.) The environmentalists need to use the existing science effectively by properly implementing the precautionary principle to protect the environment from endocrine disruptors. And our politicians should tell the manufacturers of hormonal birth-control chemicals that the continued release of EE2 endocrine disruptors will be phased out rapidly, unless those manufacturers will pay to fix the problem, with the costs to be borne by them and their customers.
Problem over, right? Not with the Republican Party platform, to be in plain view at their upcoming convention. The Contraceptive Choice Project shows that we need more education and accessibility. Maybe we can let Akin and his fellow Republicans, and the others who have displayed their abysmal ignorance of human rights and the female reproductive system so publicly, sit in on the classes.