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.