Environmental Justice and Reproductive Justice: Stop Scapegoating Women
by Jill Morrison, Senior Counsel,
National Women's Law Center
This post is the first in a series about the intersections between reproductive justice and other social justice movements.
Recently the anti-choice movement has been pushing the message that the real progressive position is to oppose abortion and birth control. The most recent iteration of this strategy to create divisions among social justice advocates is the argument that birth control is harming the environment. This was promoted by a coalition of anti-birth control groups last Saturday at "Protest the Pill Day." The groups claim that the "Pill Kills the Environment." The protest organizers say that "Studies in the United States, from California to Maryland (including the Potomac River), have revealed that some male fish have been feminized by the vast quantities of synthetic estrogen in the water." We all know that birth control contains female hormones...so, birth control must be killing the environment, right?
Um...not really. Birth control pills barely contribute to the amount of estrogen in the environment. First of all, 99 percent of the estrogens excreted by humans have nothing to do with contraceptives. Second, human excretion is not the main source of estrogen in the environment. Far more synthetic estrogen in the environment can be traced to industrial farming practices than to medications of any kind, let alone hormonal birth control specifically.
Contrary to these false claims, environmental justice and reproductive justice actually go hand-in-hand. The reproductive justice and environmental justice movements share goals, such as improving global health, identifying and mitigating structural inequalities, and finding solutions that empower traditionally marginalized people. Want to reduce infant and maternal mortality? Improve environmental conditions and increase access to birth control for spacing childbirth. Want to improve women's health, including reproductive health? Fight for health care and workplace health hazard protections for low-wage workers, who are disproportionately women and people of color.
The environmental justice and reproductive justice movements reject immigration and overpopulation as the root cause of environmental problems. We are both committed to fighting against population control programs that blame women and aim to limit their reproductive freedom. Now we must work together to reject the idea that birth control is the cause of environmental degradation, another idea that calls on us to limit women’s reproductive autonomy while ignoring the larger industrial contributors to the problem.
Contraception is a critical part of ensuring that women have the control over their lives that allows them to do what is best for themselves, their families, and their communities. If you really care about the environment, don’t beat up on birth control. Advocate for requirements that agribusinesses properly dispose of their waste and that industries test the chemicals they use and reduce the toxicity of their products, or for better water treatment that would reduce the presence of chemicals in our water and ultimately, our bodies. And do make sure that you dispose of all medications, including birth control, properly; don’t flush them down the toilet, and follow package directions for disposal. These solutions address real environmental concerns without attempting to hijack women’s reproductive choices.