I recently noticed that my seven year old daughter seemed to be developing breasts. I was freaked out. Wasn't this a little young? So when I received an invitation to attend a lecture sponsored by the Breast Cancer Fund on the causes of early puberty, I jumped at the chance. I sent the link to a couple of parents of my daughter's friends. Before I knew it, my minivan (which seats eight) was packed along with another carload of moms. It wasn't just a craving for a "Mom's Night Out" that got us to drive an hour to San Francisco. There was something else.
We were all so concerned about our daughters that we drove an hour to hear this lecture—on a school night no less. And we were riveted and appalled by the information. You mean the Nalgene bottle that my daughter takes water to school in everyday has a chemical that may contribute to early puberty? The plastic shower curtain is a problem? The sunscreen that I so carefully slather her with every morning might be harmful?
My experience made clear to me the connections between reproductive health and the environment and I think demonstrated the incredible opportunity that the pro-choice movement has to engage new activists and effectively work across movements. Moreover, the intersection of these issues enables the pro-choice movement to clearly demonstrate our commitment to helping women and their families achieve desired pregnancies and healthy children—not just end or prevent them.
In many ways, the parents of my daughter's friends and I are typical suburbanites—three kids, minivan and obligatory membership to Costco. Besides me, no one in this group of 15 plus women is active in either the pro-choice or environmental movements. They largely consider themselves pro-choice, but ... parental notice is difficult, "informed consent" sounds like a good idea and the Lacie and Connor Peterson Law is pro-choice , right?
I believe that these women are not active in the pro-choice movement because it is not relevant to their everyday lives. It used to be—in college and just after. But the women who attended the lecture with me have ob/gyns and can obtain the reproductive health services they need and their kids don't need them yet. Plus, the reality is, we all have young kids and barely get dinner on the table every night—for these women "choice" is too abstract.
As demonstrated by the overwhelming response I got to my emailed invitation (I got responses from people I didn't even know), one way to get this group engaged is through their children. Many parents (and parents-to-be) will be motivated by their concern for the health of their children and will be more likely to get engaged on behalf of their children rather than themselves. Using their concern for their children's health as a hook, we can engage these women and men in reproductive health and the environment—whether its the environmental toxins that contribute to early puberty in girls, or low semen counts in men or the asthma and autism that has its roots in in utero exposures. And, by engaging this demographic now, we can get them involved—and keep them involved—in the reproductive health and environmental health movements as their children get older and start to need services.
The Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) and Planned Parenthood Mar Monte (PPMM) are developing a pilot project to demonstrate that this link is effective and to provide "proof" of sorts. We hope to show that the pro-choice movement should—for many reasons—embrace the intersection of these issues.
For those not familiar with the issue, I encourage you read RHTP's working paper:Environmental and Reproductive Health: A Unique Opportunity. In addition, join the Collaborative on Health and the Environmental (CHE)—a network of individuals and organizations working to advance knowledge and action around human health and environmental factors. CHE has several work groups including one on fertility and early pregnancy compromise. On a personal note, I enjoy receiving the Green Guide's weekly e-newsletter of suggestions and products that I can apply to my daily life. And for those of you who want to get active now, check out Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice and Women's Voices for the Earth for information about harmful chemicals in cosmetics and mercury and reproductive justice.
I may not be able to stop my daughter from entering womanhood too soon, but perhaps,
I can help inspire the pro-choice movement and parents like myself to stop this crazy proliferation of chemicals—the effects of which we are only beginning to understand.