How Green Is the Birth Control Pill?

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the FDA’s approval of the birth control pill. The pill was first envisioned by family planning crusader Margaret Sanger as a remedy to the debilitating cycle of perpetual pregnancy for married women. Sanger’s own mother died at the age of 50 after 18 pregnancies; at her funeral Sanger famously confronted her father, telling him, “You caused this. Mother is dead from having too many children.”

The pill was intended to proffer women control over their reproductive destinies. But its secondary impact was just as important: women entered the workforce. Before the pill, less than 20 percent of women with a child under 18 worked outside the home. By the end of the last century, that number skyrocketed to 70 percent. Though many women still find themselves choosing between a career and a family, the pill allowed women to better calibrate these decisions. What followed, of course, was a major upheaval in the way we view men and women and their societal roles. Today, we’re still adjusting to that delicious shakedown.

For all the benefits of the pill, the iconic contraceptive has reaped its fair share of criticism. Like the condom, the pill, which is taken by more than 100 million women worldwide, has come under fire for having an iffy environmental track record. In a recent post on Grist.org, Lisa Hymas rolls her eyes at the media’s love note to the pill on its 50th anniversary.

“We’re still agog over a pill that Margaret Sanger dreamed up in 1912 – one that we have to take every single day, one that messes with our hormones, one that has unpleasant side effects for many women, one that contaminates our water supplies.”

Indeed, the pill is widely credited with diminishing certain fish populations. Estrogen, excreted in the urine of pill users, enters waterways where it is consumed by fish. In one Canadian and U.S. government experiment, male winnows exposed to trace amounts of estrogen became feminized. Their testicular development stopped and they began making eggs instead. Unable to reproduce, the fish population in the experiment died out within two years.

In addition to its impact on wildlife, the pill’s estrogen runoff may adversely affect humans, particularly in developing countries where waste water is more commonly recycled for human consumption.

Hymas’ call for a greener pill, a more accessible pill, and even a pill for men, deserves to be seconded. But let’s not forget that the pill has been a major boon for the environment in one regard. If you think the earth is overpopulated now, imagine what things would look like without the contraceptive. And for that reason, we toast the pill on its 50th anniversary.

Image: Phoney Nickle

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DISCUSSION

6 thoughts on “How Green Is the Birth Control Pill?

  1. All products made for use by humans should meet the terms with safety standards. But passing these basic requirements does not automatically certify a product as safe.

  2. Pingback: 5 Old-Fashioned Forms of Birth Control | EcoSalon | The Green Gathering

  3. There are other forms of contraception besides just birth control and condoms. One form is an IUD, which has been proven to be extremely effective, long lasting, and safe. It is also less expensive than birth control since it only needs to be inserted once and lasts for a few years. You can have it removed whenever you want.

    An IUD, in my opinion, is the best contraceptive out there. There is also the morning after pill (plan B) as well as a new after sex contraceptive called Ella. It is more effective than plan B and it remains effective for up to 5 days after unprotected sex. You need a prescription for Ella, unlike plan B, which you can get over the counter at your pharmacy.

  4. Would someone please tell me some other forms of contraceptive than the pill or condoms that are environmentally friendly? Right now, I use Trojan condoms, and in the past I’ve tried other types and had bad results with the quality. I would rather not use a condom even if it’s ecological, though.

  5. Like Carla says, there are other ways not to get pregnant. On the other hand, the pill makes things easier and that has an aggregate effect on birth rate. In my grandmother’s generation, a lot of marriages were shot-gun affairs. Family sizes were also larger. Most other forms of contraception require cooperation from the male partner, while the pill puts control in the woman’s hands.

  6. I don’t think The Pill really helped save the Earth. If someone doesn’t want kids, there are other ways not to get pregnant. I for one cannot take hormonal contraceptives and have taken advantage of other options. It would be nice if they made a “greener” pill that doesn’t cause horrible mood swings, weight gain, hormonal imbalance, etc, but I think we’re a long ways away. With every so-called advancement, we always pay the price somehow.

 

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