Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.

What the Pill is doing to our water supply

Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.
By Rebecca Oas Ph.D.
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May 17, 2012 (Zenit.org) – In 1960, the combined oral contraceptive pill was first approved for use in the United States. Seven years later, “the Pill” was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, illustrating its enormous societal impact[1]. Roughly two generations later, statistics from the United Nations show that, within more developed nations worldwide, just under 16% of “partnered” women use contraceptive pills, a number which does not include usage among single women[2].

However, even as the popularity of oral contraceptives remains high, the drugs themselves have been evolving in response to further discoveries about the human reproductive system, as well as efforts to reduce the Pill’s negative side effects. As with any major technological or medical development, particularly one embraced very quickly by a large sector of the population, it can take years, and even decades, for the full range of effects to become evident. And as demonstrated by several recent studies, many questions remain unanswered regarding the long-term and environmental effects of the hormones used in oral contraceptives, as well as other medical treatments.

When a new synthetic substance is created, or a naturally occurring substance is generated at greatly increased levels, the effects can be far longer-lasting and wider-reaching than its manufacturers predict or intend. Some well-known examples of this include asbestos, a popular insulation and flame retardant in the late 19th century, which was later discovered to be carcinogenic; and polystyrene foams like Styrofoam, which is frequently used in disposable packaging, yet takes hundreds of years to break down once discarded. In the case of oral contraceptives, the key ingredients are synthetic hormones known as progestins, which mimic progesterone, either alone or combined with estrogen. When used therapeutically in contraceptive pills or in hormone replacement treatments for menopause, these synthetic hormones make their way into the water supply after being excreted in the patients’ urine. As environmental contaminants, these are referred to as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), due to the fact that they interfere with the endocrine systems of humans and animals alike following exposure.

While its impact is still being widely studied, there is no doubt that the exposure is occurring: multiple international studies have documented elevated levels of natural and synthetic hormones in drinking water, and one such study conducted in France noted that progestins in particular were more resistant to removal by water treatment methods, compared with other types of pharmaceuticals [3].

Due to the accumulation of synthetic steroids in water, much of the research conducted on its impact has been done using water-dwelling vertebrates such as fish and frogs. An ever-increasing collection of studies report harmful effects of these hormones on aquatic vertebrates, particularly with regard to their reproduction, as would be predicted given the nature of the contaminants [4]. One study focused on the effects of exposure to the progestin Levonorgestrel (LNG) on the frog Xenopus tropicalis. While the male reproductive system did not appear to be impaired, female tadpoles exhibited severe defects in the development of their ovaries and oviducts, rendering them sterile [5].

While studies such as these cannot be taken as a direct assessment of the impact of environmental EDCs on humans, they do have certain advantages: the capability of controlling for the duration and concentration of exposure, and the fact that these animals’ life cycles are much shorter than those of humans, thus enabling multigenerational studies in far less time. Like the proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” animal studies can serve as early indicators of environmental conditions that may prove harmful to humans and direct our attention toward seemingly innocuous substances we encounter in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and, as in this case, our water supply. However, the effects of EDCs are not limited to water-dwelling frogs: female sterility resulting from early exposure to progestins has been reported in studies involving rats and mice, whose mammalian reproductive systems more closely resemble those of humans [6]. The female reproductive system undergoes many key developmental changes in the early stages of life, and these changes are dependent on endocrine signaling events that are sensitive to contaminating environmental hormone exposure. A series of studies by a group at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have demonstrated that mice exposed to phytoestrogens – plant estrogens such as those found in soy products – at key developmental time points exhibited impaired fertility [7]. In contrast to mice, in which the critical period of time is during the neonatal period, the human female reproductive tract is undergoing development from prior to birth through adolescence. Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate the risk of exposure to EDCs across a broader window of time, beginning in the womb.

The use of hormonal contraceptives by pregnant women is discouraged for the obvious reason that they are not ovulating, in addition to the potential for harm to the unborn child. However, postpartum contraception guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control in 2011 state that the use of progestin-only contraceptives “can be initiated immediately postpartum,” and discourage the use of estrogen-containing combined contraceptives in breastfeeding women primarily because the estrogen can reduce the mother’s milk supply [8]. The presence of progestins in the breast milk of women taking oral contraceptives has not been demonstrated to adversely affect their babies’ health, although such assessments tend to focus on the short-term outcomes rather than those that might not manifest until adulthood. Nevertheless, the most recent report from the NIH group studying the effects of phytoestrogens highlights the notion that limiting early exposure to plant estrogens, such as those found in soy-based infant formulas, may prove to be beneficial to female reproductive health in the long term. Furthermore, the potential harms of prevalent EDC pollution in the environment are not restricted to women: in November of last year, the British Medical Journal published a report indicating that levels of prostate cancer in men are highest in geographic areas with the greatest use of oral contraceptives [9]. While the authors stress that their findings are correlative rather than causative, their work provides a sobering hypothesis for further important research.

Ultimately, the Catholic opposition to contraception is grounded in a fundamental understanding of the meaning of human life and the purpose of procreation as a part of God’s plan, not a pragmatic conclusion reached by painstaking scientific research. While it makes intuitive sense that humans both individually and as societies benefit by living in accordance with the wishes of their Creator, in a fallen world there are practical things that can be done to alleviate some of our suffering, including the use of medical technology and pharmacology. It should be noted that synthetic hormones are not exclusively used in contraceptives, nor are the chemical compounds marketed as contraceptives intrinsically immoral – for instance, an unmarried and abstinent woman using hormonal treatments to treat endometriosis in the hopes of safeguarding her future fertility is doing nothing sinful, regardless of the efficacy or side effects of her decision. However, in a world in which influential groups and individuals are increasingly advocating for population control, often in a manner that recalls the eugenics movement of decades past, it is necessary to insist that research be done to uncover truths regarding the long-term and unintended side effects of widespread contraceptive pill usage.

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This article originally appeared on Zenit.org and is reprinted with permission.

Rebecca Oas, Ph.D., is a Fellow of HLI America, an educational initiative of Human Life International. She writes for HLI America’s Truth and Charity Forum.

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(1) Time Magazine, April 7, 1967. http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,1101670407,00.html
(2) United Nations: World Contraceptive Use (2005) http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/contraceptive2005/2005_World_Contraceptive_files/WallChart_WCU2005.pdf
(3) Vulliet E; Cren-Olive C, Grenier-Loustalot MF. Occurrence of pharmaceuticals and hormones in drinking water treated from surface waters. Environmental Chemistry Letters (2011) 9:103–114
(4) Whitacre DM. Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, Volume 218. Spring, 2012
(5) Kvarnryda M, Grabic R, Brandt I, Berg C. Early life progestin exposure causes arrested oocyte development, oviductal agenesis and sterility in adult Xenopus tropicalis frogs. Aquatic Toxicology 103 (2011) 18–24
(6) Uzumcu M, Zachow R. Developmental Exposure to Environmental Endocrine Disruptors: Consequences within the Ovary and on Female Reproductive Function. Reproductive Toxicology. 2007; 23(3): 337–352.
(7) Jefferson WN, Patisaul HB, Williams CJ. Reproductive consequences of developmental phytoestrogen exposure. Reproduction (2012) 143 247–260
(8) Update to CDC’s U.S. Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, 2010: Revised Recommendations for the Use of Contraceptive Methods During the Postpartum Period. CDC, July 8, 2011.
(9) Margel D, Fleshner NE. Oral contraceptive use is associated with prostate cancer: an ecological study. British Medical Journal Open. 2011 Nov 14;1(2)

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President Obama speaks at Planned Parenthood's national conference in 2013.
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Obama remakes the nation’s courts in his image

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By Dustin Siggins
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It has often been said that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is President Obama's greatest achievement as president. However, that claim may soon take second place to his judicial nominees, and especially their effect on marriage in the United States.

In a new graphic, The Daily Signal notes that while President George W. Bush was able to get 50 nominees approved by this time in his second term, Obama has gotten more than 100 approved. According to The Houston Chronicle, "Democratic appointees who hear cases full time now hold a majority of seats on nine of the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals. When Obama took office, only one of those courts had more full-time judges nominated by a Democrat."

Three of the five judges who struck down state marriage laws between February 2014 and the Supreme Court's Windsor decision in 2013 were Obama appointees, according to a CBS affiliate in the Washington, D.C. area. Likewise, the Windsor majority that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act included two Obama appointees, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Obama has nominated 11 homosexual judges, the most of any president by far, says the National Law Journal.

Only one federal judge has opposed same-sex "marriage" since the Supreme Court's Windsor decision. He was appointed under the Reagan administration.

This accomplishment, aided by the elimination of Senate filibusters on judicial nominees, could affect how laws and regulations are interpreted by various courts, especially as marriage heads to a probable Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of state laws.

Democrats eliminated the filibuster for all judicial nominees except for Supreme Court candidates last year, saying Republicans were blocking qualified candidates for the bench. However, the filibuster was part of the reason Democrats were able to keep the number of approved Bush appointees so low.

The Supreme Court may hear multiple marriage questions in its 2015 cycle. 

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Lisa Bourne

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Cardinal Dolan: Debate on denying Communion to pro-abortion pols ‘in the past’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

As America heads into its 2014 midterm elections, a leading U.S. prelate says the nation’s bishops believe debate over whether to deny Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians is “in the past.”

The Church’s Code of Canon Law states in Canon 915 that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Leading Vatican officials, including Pope Benedict XVI himself, have said this canon ought to be applied in the case of pro-abortion Catholic politicians. However, prelates in the West have widely ignored it, and some have openly disagreed.

John Allen, Jr. of the new website Crux, launched as a Catholic initiative under the auspices of the Boston Globe, asked New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan about the issue earlier this month.

“In a way, I like to think it’s an issue that served us well in forcing us to do a serious examination of conscience about how we can best teach our people about their political responsibilities,” the cardinal responded, “but by now that inflammatory issue is in the past.”

“I don’t hear too many bishops saying it’s something that we need to debate nationally, or that we have to decide collegially,” he continued. “I think most bishops have said, ‘We trust individual bishops in individual cases.’ Most don’t think it’s something for which we have to go to the mat.”

Cardinal Dolan expressed personal disinterest in upholding Canon 915 publicly in 2010 when he told an Albany TV station he was not in favor of denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians. He said at the time that he preferred “to follow the lead of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who said it was better to try to persuade them than to impose sanctions.”

However, in 2004 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI the following year, wrote the U.S. Bishops a letter stating that a Catholic politician who would vote for "permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" after being duly instructed and warned, "must" be denied Communion. 

Cardinal Ratzinger sent the document to the U.S. Bishops in 2004 to help inform their debate on the issue. However, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then-chair of the USCCB Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, who received the letter, withheld the full text from the bishops, and used it instead to suggest ambiguity on the issue from the Vatican.

A couple of weeks after Cardinal McCarrick’s June 2004 address to the USCCB, the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger was leaked to well-known Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, who published the full document. Cardinal Ratzinger’s office later confirmed the leaked document as authentic.

Since the debate in 2004, numerous U.S. prelates have openly opposed denying Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

In 2008, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley suggested the Church had yet to formally pronounce on the issue, and that until it does, “I don’t think we’re going to be denying Communion to the people.”

In 2009, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. in 2009 said that upholding of Canon 915 would turn the Eucharist into a political “weapon,” refusing to employ the law in the case of abortion supporter Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, said in a 2009 newspaper interview that pro-abortion politicians should be granted communion because Jesus Christ gave Holy Communion to Judas Iscariot.

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However, one of the Church’s leading proponents of the practice, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who is prefect of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura, insists that denying Communion is not a punishment.

“The Church’s discipline from the time of Saint Paul has admonished those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin not to present themselves for Holy Communion,” he said at LifeSiteNews’ first annual Rome Life Forum in Vatican City in early May. "The discipline is not a punishment but the recognition of the objective condition of the soul of the person involved in such sin."  

Only days earlier, Cardinal Francis Arinze, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, told LifeSiteNews that he has no patience for politicians who say that they are “personally” opposed to abortion, but are unwilling to “impose” their views on others.

On the question of Communion, he said, “Do you really need a cardinal from the Vatican to answer that?”

Cardinal Christian Tumi, archbishop emeritus of Douala, told LifeSiteNews around the same time that ministers of Holy Communion are “bound not to” give the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support abortion.

Pro-life organizations across the world have said they share the pastoral concern for pro-abortion politicians. Fifty-two pro-life leaders from 16 nations at the recent Rome Life Forum called on the bishops of the Catholic Church to honor Canon 915 and withhold Communion from pro-abortion politicians as an act of love and mercy.

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Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura Steve Jalsevac / LifeSiteNews
John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry

Sources confirm Cardinal Burke will be removed. But will he attend the Synod?

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By John-Henry Westen

Sources in Rome have confirmed to LifeSiteNews that Cardinal Raymond Burke, the head of the Vatican’s highest court, known as the Apostolic Signatura, is to be removed from his post as head of the Vatican dicastery and given a non-curial assignment as patron of the Order of Malta.

The timing of the move is key since Cardinal Burke is currently on the list to attend October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family. He is attending in his capacity as head of one of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, so if he is removed prior to the Synod it could mean he would not be able to attend.

Burke has been one of the key defenders in the lead-up to the Synod of the Church's traditional practice of withholding Communion from Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried.

Most of the Catholic world first learned of the shocking development through Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, whose post ‘Exile to Malta for Cardinal Burke’ went out late last night.

If Burke’s removal from the Signatura is confirmed, said Magister, the cardinal “would not be promoted - as some are fantasizing in the blogosphere - to the difficult but prestigious see of Chicago, but rather demoted to the pompous - but ecclesiastically very modest - title of ‘cardinal patron’ of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, replacing the current head, Paolo Sardi, who recently turned 80.”

At 66, Cardinal Burke is still in his Episcopal prime.

The prominent traditional Catholic blog Rorate Caeli goes as far as to say, “It would be the greatest humiliation of a Curial Cardinal in living memory, truly unprecedented in modern times: considering the reasonably young age of the Cardinal, such a move would be, in terms of the modern Church, nothing short than a complete degradation and a clear punishment.”

On Tuesday, American traditionalist priest-blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf also hinted he had heard the move was underway. “I’ve been biting the inside of my mouth for a while now,” he wrote. “The optimist in me was saying that the official announcement would not be made until after the Synod of Bishops, or at least the beginning of the Synod. Or at all.”

“It’s not good news,” he added.

Both Magister and Zuhlsdorf predicted that the controversial move would unleash a wave of simultaneous jubilation from dissident Catholics and criticism from faithful Catholics. The decision to remove Cardinal Burke from his position on the Congregation for Bishops last December caused a public outpouring of concern and dismay from Catholic and pro-life leaders across the globe.

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Both men speculated on the reasons for the ouster. 

Magister pointed out that Burke is the latest in a line of ‘Ratzingerian’ prelates to undergo the axe.

“In his first months as bishop of Rome, pope Bergoglio immediately provided for the transfer to lower-ranking positions of three prominent curial figures: Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, and Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, considered for their theological and liturgical sensibilities among the most ‘Ratzingerian’ of the Roman curia,” said Magister.

He added: “Another whose fate appears to be sealed is the Spanish archbishop of Opus Dei Celso Morga Iruzubieta.”

Fr. Zuhlsdorf observed that Pope Francis may also be shrinking the Curial offices and thus reducing the number of Cardinals needed to fill those posts. He adds however, “It would be naïve in the extreme to think that there are lacking near Francis’s elbows those who have been sharpening their knives for Card. Burke and for anyone else associated closely with Pope Benedict.” 

“This is millennial, clerical blood sport.”

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