Anti-Science, Anti-Chemical, Anti-Birth Control

The Religious Right’s war on women continues apace in state legislatures like New Hampshire, where congress is chock full of idiots. Here’s some recent footage of Rep. Jeanine Notter arguing that the government shouldn’t concern themselves with making birth control pills affordable because they (the pills, not the government) cause prostate cancer:

Rep Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack): …As a man, would it interest you to know that Dr Brownstein just published an article that links the pill to prostate cancer?

Rep Andrew Manuse (R-Derry): In the children that are born from these women?

Rep Jeanine Notter:…women take the pill and it’s in their body (and I’m very anti-chemical) and uh the men are (garbled) it up.

Birth control causes prostate cancer! Science says so, apparently.

Notter is apparently referring to this article in which one Dr. David Brownstein answers a question that I assume he asked himself: Do birth control pills somehow play a role in prostate cancer?

Previously, Dr. Brownstein cautioned his audience to avoid the flu shot because it contains mercury and isn’t very effective, so we already know that he’s full of shit because thimerosal is a safe preservative used in some vaccines but not in single-shot seasonal flu vaccines and the flu vaccine is very effective at preventing the spread of a deadly disease.

But anyway, let’s get back to how women controlling their cycles and preventing pregnancy is murdering the menz.

Brownstein references this study (Oral contraceptive use is associated with prostate cancer: an ecological study) published in the British Medical Journal last November that looked at countries with a high rate of women using birth control pills and found a correlation with rates of prostate cancer. They found no such correlation with the use of other types of birth control. The researchers attributed this correlation to the potentially dangerous impact of hormonal birth control going through women’s bodies and out into the environment.

There have been many studies that suggest that the various pills we end up flushing down the toilet have a serious environmental impact, so this doesn’t really come out of left field. However, there were many other researchers who took issue with the way this study in particular was conducted and the conclusions that were drawn.

First let’s put the usual disclaimer out there: correlation does not equal causation. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take a strong correlation seriously. So, what went wrong with this study?

For starters, the researchers failed to take into consideration any other known risk factors for prostate cancer, such as diet or the existence of a certain allele (ApoE4).

They also failed to take into account that improved testing for prostate cancer might lead to higher rates of detection in more affluent countries where more women also happen to have access to birth control pills. The authors attempted to control for affluence but admitted that accurate reporting in developing countries was difficult to come by.

Most damning of all, John W. Cherrie and Laura MacCalman of the Institute of Occupational Medicine found a multitude of statistical errors in the paper, particularly a difference between numbers reported in original sources and the numbers that appear in the final charts. When Cherrie and MacCalman used the original source figures, they found that the correlation between birth control pills and prostate cancer disappeared while a positive correlation with condom use and a negative association with intrauterine device use suddenly appeared.

Interestingly, Cherrie and MacCalman suggest that a better way to test the hypothesis of whether or not birth control pills cause prostate cancer is to look at male-to-female transsexuals. These women receive high doses of estrogen and anti-androgens, yet apparently there is no apparent increase in prostate cancer in that group.

Over on the BMJ’s reply page you can read the detailed criticism presented by Cherrie and MacCalman as well as the reply from David Marge and Neil Fleshner, the original authors, who admit that they did make several statistical errors but maintain that the new data still supports their hypothesis enough to merit ongoing study.

At the end of the day, though, I don’t even think Margel and Fleshner would support Rep. Notter’s use of their study as a way to argue that the government shouldn’t care about insurance coverage for the millions of women who use birth control pills to prevent pregnancy and/or safeguard their health. That’s just bad science and bad politics.

Lest you think that Rep. Notter is an otherwise sensible legislator, let it be known that she is as anti-vaccine as the aforementioned Dr. Brownstein. Last year she argued against vaccines by pointing out that the Black Plague eventually wound down without the need of vaccines:

“The Black death was a terrible disease, there was never a shot for the black death and yet it declined naturally. Have you heard of that, the Black Death?” (01:17:10)
-Rep. Notter on HB416
3/15/11 AM Session

So we only need to kill several millions of people before we finally get rid of things like polio, whooping cough, or measles. Good to know.

And lest you think that Notter is the only embarrassment currently in the New Hampshire congress, here’s Rep. Blankenbeker insisting that people don’t need access to affordable birth control pills because people, including married couples, can just be abstinent:

Note everyone laughing when it is rightfully pointed out to them that condoms are not 100% effective and abstinence does not work. No one, at least in the clip, points out that birth control pills are also used to help women who have otherwise unmanageable and excruciating periods.

New Hampshire residents: you have a bunch of clowns running your state. Do something about it, please.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Actually, the correlation between men who get prostate cancer and men who have governments is eerily high.

  2. When I visit my doctor, there’s a chart on the wall of every examining room. In the left column of the chart are all of the forms of birth control, from Vatican Roulette through condoms and the pill.

    The second column is entitled “Effectiveness with perfect use”. The third column “Effectiveness with actual use”.

    That third column is crucial. It accounts for all the people who had condoms break, forgot to take a pill, didn’t pull out soon enough, etc. etc.

    The chart does not, however, have a column for “Abstinence”.

    While I will agree that with perfect use, abstinence is 100% effect, I would suggest that it’s effectiveness with actual use is somewhat lower.

    And that argument about medical uses of the pill is super-crazy valid. Even as a man who only has second hand info on menstruation, I’ve known women who can get their 10-day periods down to 3 and a half with those pills. Damn right that’s medicine that needs to be covered.

  3. Live free or die… stupid? Oh my goodness. I suppose the anti-chemical folks avoid purified water like the *cough* black plague then?

  4. I think it’s time to organize a sex boycott. If your man is in favor of punishing women for having sex (pro-forced vaginal ultrasounds, anti-contraceptive, pro-personhood for sperm, anti-abortion, etc.) then don’t have sex with him. Problem solved. Hey, they’re all in favor of abstinence, right?

    Disclaimer: I realize not all women have the kind of power necessary to pull off a sex boycott, but many do! Imagine the impact if all the wives whose husbands voted for these bills announced that contraceptives would no longer be necessary in their households.

    1. I have a better idea: If you’re married or in a relationship with a man who thinks like this GET OUT NOW. No man who thinks like this considers women equal adults who should be in charge of their own lives or destinies.

      Any guy who thinks like this is not a good person and should be avoided at all costs. Seriously. I just can’t countenance hanging out with someone who thinks I should have permanent minor child status because “LADYBRAINS AND VAGINAS!”

  5. re: Black death

    If you believe that evolution can cause a virus to not kill its host, why don’t you believe in vaccination again?

  6. It’s not often I find myself lost for words (or opinions for that matter), but yesterday found me pretty silenced and depressed. I moved to the US because it’s the land of fucking opportunity, not because I wanted to be vagi-probed and dictated to by Men Who Know Better ™. America, get your fucking shit together.

  7. “No one, at least in the clip, points out that birth control pills are also used to help women who have otherwise unmanageable and excruciating periods.”

    This is one of the huge things that pisses me off about the whole BC debacle. For me, BC pills are not taken to prevent pregnancy. I’ve had a tubal, but still need to take BC pills to regulate hormones and the nasty PMS/moods. I already pay about $250 a year for them, and that’s *with* insurance, so they can stick their claims that BC is cheap and not preventative up their ass.

    1. That’s why I take them. I’ve had a tubal, and prefer to use condoms as well, but otherwise doctors get all uncomfortable when I tell them how many ounces of blood I’ve lost in the last couple hours and that yes, this has been going on for weeks.

    2. This. My wife’s Seasonique prescription means I don’t have to sit by helplessly and watch her writhe in pain for three days every month; even the once-every-three-months periods she gets on the pill are low-pain. The notion that someone could have any respect or compassion for women at all and resist the use of the Pill is beyond unfathomable to me.

  8. Tee hee…. just saw the following quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson pop up on FB: “Scientific literacy is a vaccine against the charlatans of the world that would exploit your ignorance.” I’m guessing the folks on the Right are against those vaccinations, too.

  9. Paranoid thought for the day: If I were running a country (let’s say China, for example) that wanted ensure its economic and political dominance over the USA, I think I would make sure to secretly funnel money to the religious right and other conservative groups to help finance their attacks on good science teaching, as well as attacks on women’s abilities to gain economic and reproductive freedom.

    And now I have to go home and pretend I didn’t imagine that scenario.

  10. I find it ironic how artificial contraception was prescribed by doctors to prevent ovarian cancer in women for Obama’s health care reform law he signed last year, and now this guy is using false resources to say that — somehow — women who take birth control can give prostate cancer to men.

  11. I think this is more about anti-Sex than anti anything else. HPV-vaccinations, bishops claiming religious freedom to avoid paying for contraception, Foster Friess’s trollish comment the other day. They want abstinence to be the only option, and anything to bring that about, cancer, STDs or unwanted children seems to be preferable to the idea that someone might have enjoyable safe sex somewhere. It is deeply pathological.

  12. Since the Blount bill was offered we have been puzzling over all the medical treatments that people’s employers could demand that their employees insurance not cover based on the employers moral conviction that a medication or medical procedure could have a deleterious effect on some unknown third person.
    The possibilities are endless.

    1. If the employer was a Jehovah’s Witness, they could refuse to pay for transfusions. If they were Scientologists, they could refuse all mental health treatment. If they were New-Agers, they could refuse vaccinations. If they were Christian Scientists, they could refuse everything.

  13. I started taking the pill at 15 because I have horrible periods that are extremely irregular. I need the pill to sort out my wonky hormones whether I’m having sex or not. That it immunizes me to the disease of pregnancy is a handy side-effect.

  14. The thing that irritates ME most is that if they just said “I don’t want to pay for it” and didn’t try to give some sort of bullshit false reasoning, I would be on their side or at the very least understanding. I can understand not wanting to pay for it, and thinking it is not the government’s responsibility to legislate and mandate birth control, but I can’t get behind using crap science for it.

    1. Well said Brie. This isn’t about whether birth control is right or wrong, causes cancer, it isn’t a follow up to the Catholic dogma debacle nor is it a women’s lib thing. This is all about who pays for what. It’s a shame that our elected officials feel that they have to spout pseudo science and theology lessons in order to persuade the masses. Just tell us that you don’t want the government or insurance companies to pay for birth control….Jesus, there are already enough programs giving out the shit for free.

    2. Nope. I don’t buy your argument at all. Why shouldn’t insurance companies cover an important medicine? It’s medicine. It’s important for woman. Insurance companies cover a lot of other medication. This just ensures that insurance companies cover a very important medication for women. Why is it that only birth control is the issue here? Why do you believe that insurance companies shouldn’t be required to cover such an important medication?

      1. I believe insurance companies’ policies should cover birth control and in my state it is mandated by the insurance commissioner that they do. But, the idea that it should be mandated for “free” by insurance companies is laughable. The cost would just be divided up between all of the policies’ premiums. No company’s board that is in business to produce a profit for their share holders would in their right mind eat from their profits a “tax” or added cost required by the government. In addition, no insurance company out for profit would in their right mind not offer birth control because of the cost associated with prenatal care, birth and coverage of another dependent. If it were Digger insurance and I was out to fund my next yacht I sure as hell wouldn’t be pulling birth control from my policies so that I could pay for births and brats.

  15. There is a much darker question we should ask. I have seen many many men from different religious org. testify in front of Congress, but where are the women? We like to grumble that Middle Eastern countries subjugate their women like chattle, but women are strangely as silent in the USA. Women should be protesting, rioting, testifying, doing something, but where are they? Google “women’s reactions to Obama’s Birth Control” or something along those lines and you get nothing. All I see are religious men trying to tell women what to do with their reproductive organs, unless you count Sarah Palin and her ilk actually agreeing with them. She actually has the twisted logic to say, please don’t give me insurance for my health but if my husband needs an erection you better cover it. That’s freakin insane. What do you think would happen if a woman president held power over a predominately female House and Senate and passed a bill denying men insurance to Viagra et al, prostate exams, and held sway over any coverage that had to do with their reproductive organs. Men would freak out, but why aren’t women? Are our women as whipped as any other woman in the middle east? This is sad. Women need to seize control of government, religion and corporate power if there is going to be any change. Any book that tells women they are subservient to men should be vigorously opposed. Unless of course you like the status quo then good luck to you.

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