By Carol Downer
The pro-natalist population controllers say they’re concerned about our health, and they charge that hormonal contraceptives are dangerous to our health, therefore we should stop taking them and have more babies; the other side says they’re concerned about our health, and they present the facts that show that the benefits of hormonal contraceptives outweigh the risk, so it’s prudent to use them to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Who’s “facts” do we believe?
Who’s checking the fact checkers, especially when they check up on jingoistic statements that we want to see proven wrong. When a pro-natalist Zimbabwean official tells his countrywomen “to multiply” in order for Zimbabwe to be a “superpower” and warns that birth control can cause cancer, we can see that he’s trying to exploit women’s fears. But, we must be equally wary when those of the “anti-natalist persuasion” rush to allay our fears. When the facts start flying about what’s best for women’s bodies, those of us who want to control our reproduction without governmental interference have to carefully analyze this ideologically-driven debate.
In the article, “Zimbabwe Registrar’s Claim that Contraception Causes Cancer is Misleading and Alarmist”, Africa Check cites two main claims by Zimbabwe Official Tobaiwa Mudede in his speech at an Africa Day celebration in Harare on May 25. They ignore his first assertion that the promotion of birth control is a ploy by western nations to retard population growth in Africa.
They contact WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and their check reveals his facts are right. IARC confirms that there can be a link between the use of oral and injectable hormonal contraceptives and particular types of cancer, increasing the risk in some cases and lowering it in others. Dr. Elvira Singh of IARC gives their overview of the various risk factors for cancer in taking the Pill or the Shot; she concludes that Mudede’s comments are “alarmist”. Dr. Singh’s support of the Pill and the Shot shows her complacency about the dangers of the Pill or the Shot, given that there a number of other equally effective but far safer barrier methods equally available. She only compares the danger of the Pill or the Shot to doing nothing at all to prevent pregnancy. Birth has dangers so the Pill and the Shot compare well with that.
Abby Johnston of Bustle.com’s article, a shortened version of Africa Check’s, sums up WHO’s position as “the benefit far exceeds the risks” with contraceptive use, and mis-quotes Africa Check in saying that “the higher the birth rate in a country, the higher the maternal mortality rate”. Fact? The UN only said the dangers of having more children could result in increased mortality rate. Johnston reveals her true concern, “Access and education on birth control is particularly important in areas facing overpopulation.” She presumably means Africa. African women, just as much as other women, need to have an unbiased comparison of all methods of birth control; www.birth-control-comparison.info
Methinks that the reason that Africa Check didn’t check the facts concerning Mudede’s allegation that there are those in the West that push birth control because they fear population growth in Africa, is because it is also based on fact. Some people confuse the feminist demand that we have control over our reproduction with the anti-natalist drive to reduce those populations they believe are excessive. These anti-natalist forces, usually wealthy families, use their money and influence to support national and international policies to push birth control as the primary way to attack poverty and environmental degradation. They use the rhetoric of women’s liberation, but their foundations and university-funded projects push oral and injectable hormonal contraception, no matter how harmful these methods may be.
Unfortunately, the anti-natalists have been wildly successful so far in keeping a low profile, framing their proposals as giving women “choice”. But, as a start to understanding the controversy between these two sides, there is an excellent book out that gives us a road map to the christian patriarchy movement and a description and history of national and international pro-natalist trends. I urge supporters of women’s reproductive rights to read my review of “Quiverfull” by Kathryn Joyce, a contributing reporter for Nation Magazine. I think it is important for us to face the growing pro-natalist movement in the United States, the popular base for the right-wing politicians who are closing down abortion clinics.